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Ending Slavery and Serfdom - HIS00100C

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Henrice Altink
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

Slavery and serfdom are two common types of unfree labour. This module focuses on slavery in the Americas and serfdom in Russia and explores how these two systems of labour, which exploited millions of workers, came to an end in the long nineteenth century. It will address key themes and debates in historical scholarship, such as the role of black abolitionists and the long-standing debate whether abolition was driven by moral or economic factors. Alongside, we will examine a range of sources that shed light on the process of abolition, including abolitionist pamphlets, slave / serf narratives, parliamentary debates and reports, private correspondence, and magazines and newspaper accounts. These sources will form the basis of your group project which will also draw upon relevant secondary literature to answer a self-designed research question.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To work closely with a type or range of primary sources that speak to a particular period of history
  • To equip students with group work skills at an early stage in their degree
  • To guide students in how historians deploy and select a mix of methods of analysis in order to construct an argument
  • To enable students to produce an independent piece of research based on primary source materials

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Be able to present a piece of work effectively as a group by making clear and coherent contributions in coordination with others
  • Have demonstrated the ability to work collaboratively in order to devise and complete a project
  • Have shown the ability to evaluate and apply quantitative and qualitative methods as appropriate for their inquiries
  • Have gained skills and experience in identifying and analysing primary sources in advance of project and dissertation work at later stages
  • Have combined the analysis of primary sources with critical discussion of a scholarly debate in order to develop a coherent historical argument

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1, 2-hour workshops in weeks 2-4, 7-8 and 11, and group tutorials in weeks 6 and 10. They will also participate in York Strengths online. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW). Students prepare for and participate in six workshops and two group tutorials, and complete two reflective online exercises in all.

Workshop topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. Slavery and serfdom: an introduction to the main debates
  2. Anti-slavery
  3. Slave and serf resistance
  4. The politics of abolition
  5. The practice of ending slavery and serfdom


Task Length % of module mark
3,000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment work, students submit a group project proposal in week 5 and participate in a group presentation in week 11.

For summative assessment, students submit a 3000-word essay as a group project in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Individual Project & Reflection Individual Project & Reflection Individual Project and Reflection
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment tasks, students will receive feedback in their tutorial and in their workshop. This feedback may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole module group.

All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For summative assessment tasks, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For semester-time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

  • Robin Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776-1848 (London: Verso, 1988).
  • David Eltis et al, The Cambridge World History of Slavery volume 4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2017).
  • Seymour Drescher, Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.