“Slaves on the West Coast of Africa” by Auguste Francois Biard (c.1833), Wilberforce House Museum, Hull

Atrocious Trade: Fighting Slavery in Spain’s Atlantic Empire

Tutor: Jesús Sanjurjo

Module type: MA Option

Module code: HIS00110M

Credits: 20

The history of Spanish abolitionism is a story of political failure, in which anti-slave trade and anti-slavery ideas remained for a long time marginal and limited to the endeavour of some few activists. Between 1800 and 1870, more than 700,000 African men, women and children were introduced in Cuba, the most important remaining colony of a sinking empire.

Since the early abolitionists discourses advanced by Isidoro de Antillón, José María Blanco-White, Miguel Guridi and Agustín de Argüelles, in the 1800s and 1810s, to the anti-slavery poetry of Concepción Arenal, in the second half of the 1860s, abolitionist activists advanced the cause of freedom and racial justice through a multiplicity of institutions and initiatives. The period considered here under the ‘Age of Abolition’, spans for almost a century, between 1807, when Britain abolished and began an international crusade against the slave trade, and 1886, when slavery was finally abolished in Spanish Cuba.

The module is designed to introduce students to the history of slavery and the slave trade in the Spanish Empire as a stand-alone subject, by focusing on how abolitionist ideas were shaped, transformed and developed in Spain and the Spanish Caribbean. Drawing from the foundational works of historians such as Manuel Barcia, Ada Ferrer, Josep Fradera, and Christopher Schmidt-Nowara, the module will go beyond national and local historical narratives, fomenting a dialogue between Spanish and Portuguese-speaking historiographies and their Anglophone counterpart.

Seminar topics may include:

    • Slavery and Slave Trade in the Spanish America: Meanings, Spaces and Sources
    • The Haitian Revolution: Race and Resistance in the Caribbean
    • ‘Atrocious, Horrendous and Inhumane’: Abolitionism in Spain and the Spanish America
    • Diplomats, Activists and Treaties: British Abolitionism in Cuba and Puerto Rico
    • Entangled, Rival and Endless Empires: From Ferdinand VII to Isabella II
    • Money, Influence and Power: The Creole Sugarocracy
    • Racism, Reform and Radical Politics: The Abolition of Slavery in the Hispanic America and the Spanish Caribbean
    • The Legacies of Slavery and Slave Trade in the Hispanic World: Visit to the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool


Preliminary Reading 

    • Barcia, Manuel, Seeds of Insurrection. Domination and Resistance on Western Cuban Plantations, 1808-1848. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008
    • Ferrer, Ada, Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014
    • Fradera, Josep M., and Chistopher Schmidt-Nowara, eds., Slavery and Antislavery in Spain’s Atlantic Empire. New York: Berghahn, 2013
    • Murray, David R., Odious commerce. Britain, Spain and the abolition of the Cuban slave trade. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980