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Black Resistance to Slavery in North America - HIS00135M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Edd Mair
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24
    • See module specification for other years: 2022-23

Module summary

In this module, we will analyse the different forms of Black resistance to slavery that manifested in North America during the nineteenth century. Slavery dominated much of North America and by 1860 there were over 3,000,000 enslaved peoples living in the United States alone. Yet the enslaved resisted their condition in a variety of forms. Black resistance could range from the enslaved absconding from their labour to all-out violent rebellion. Resistance consistently challenged the hegemony of slavery and exposed the system’s inherent contradictions, such as the humanity of the enslaved. Each of our sessions will expand and challenge our concepts of agency and freedom by looking at different expressions of resistance. Indeed, these contested definitions remain at the forefront of historiography on slavery in North America, and these debates will be central to each seminar.

In each session, we will look at different examples of Black resistance to slavery. This includes day-to-day resistance on the plantation and female resistance to gendered violence under slavery. However, our scope will go well beyond the confines of the antebellum plantation. The place of Black abolitionists in the anti-slavery movement will receive significant attention, as well as fugitives from slavery who established their own Maroon communities. These varied examples will help us come to a nuanced definition of ‘Black resistance’, in the context of slavery. Consideration will be paid to how these acts of defiance related to one-another and how these forms of resistance were forced to persist even after slavery’s demise. To uncover these varied experiences, the module will introduce you to significant primary sources, with some being of an ethnographic nature.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

The aims of this module are to:

  • Develop skills of source analysis and interpretation
  • Assess a range of source material and relevant secondary works; and
  • Develop students’ powers of evidence-based historical argument, both orally and in writing.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Demonstrate a knowledge of a specialist historiographical literature;
  • Present findings in an analytical framework derived from a specialist field;
  • Solve a well-defined historiographical problem using insights drawn from secondary and, where appropriate, primary sources.
  • Set out written findings using a professional scholarly apparatus.

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing (RAW) weeks during which there are no seminars, and during which students research and write a formative essay, consulting with the module tutor. Students prepare for eight seminars in all.

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

  1. On Agency: How do we define resistance?
  2. Everyday resistance on the plantation
  3. Gendered violence and female resistance
  4. Fugitives from slavery
  5. Maroon communities
  6. White responses to black resistance
  7. Black abolitionists
  8. Black resistance after emancipation


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students submit a 2,000-word formative essay in week 9.
A 4,000-word summative essay will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will typically receive written feedback on their formative essay within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative essay during their tutor’s student hours—especially during week 11, before, that is, they finalise their plans for the Summative Essay.

For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, 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 reading during the module, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

  • Eugene Genovese, From Rebellion to Revolution: Afro-American Slave Revolts in the Making of the Modern World (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979).
  • Stephanie M. H. Camp, Closer to Freedom : Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South (Chapel Hill, N.C.: London: University of North Carolina Press, 2004).
  • Matthew J. Clavin, Aiming for Pensacola: Fugitive Slaves on the Atlantic and Southern Frontiers, (London: Harvard University Press, 2015).

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.