Module Catalogue 2022/23

HIS3354 : Unfree Nation: Enslavement in the United States from the Colonial Era to Reconstruction

  • Offered for Year: 2022/23
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Susan-Mary Grant
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Pre Requisite Comment


Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



This modules explores, via primary documents and secondary analyses, the development, entrenchment, and eventual termination of enslavement in the United States of America, from the colonial era to the end of Reconstruction and the abolition of African American enslavement via the Thirteenth Amendment.

It seeks to locate the history of African American enslavement within a broader history of the United States, and this will include the history of indigenous enslavement. Students will be encouraged to use first-hand testimonies of the enslaved, along with the arguments of the enslavers, to assess the broader impact of enslavement upon the minds and bodies of the enslaved, and the nation as a whole in respect of enslavement's immediate impact and its long-term legacy.

The module will be taught via a combination of the traditional Special Subject seminar (two hour) and a series of online background asynchronous lectures to place the material in context.

The focus of the module will be on the enslaved experience broadly conceived. It may include such topics as:

the enslavers’ perspectives
the enslaved community
indigenous enslavement
the role of mothers and fathers in sustaining a form of normality for the enslaved
the ‘soul death’ that enslavement produced across the enslaved population of the South
the slave markets, running away, and the ways in which, once Civil War had broken out in 1861, the enslaved seized the opportunity to force the institution’s termination through their own actions.
The tragedy of the refugee camps during the war, and the racism that the enslaved experienced from some in the Union army
The gradual withdrawal of Federal support for the formerly enslaved

All of these are designed to introduce students to a new way of looking at a subject, and at evidence, that is often very popular but for all the wrong reasons.

Outline Of Syllabus

Topics may include the following:

Introduction to the historiography of slavery; the main secondary texts to be used; and the main online primary sources that will form the main focus of the module. Introduction to terminology.
Colonial enslavement and the free black population: a contradiction in racial terms?
The Revolution and Enslavement in a Nation of Equals
Indigenous enslavement
Northern denials and the internal trade in the enslaved
The commodification of the body: Slave markets of the antebellum South
Constrained Communities on and off the plantation
The Edges of Enslavement: Do Exceptions Prove Rules?
Enslavement in the life stories of the enslaved
Escapees and the national narrative of enslavement
Conflict and Chaos; opportunities and endings
Refugees: A new kind of suffering
Free at Last; or not.

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

This module will teach students how to:

• Understand, in a broad sense, the development and growth of an enslaved labour force in the United States of America.
• Understand the particular role that this played in constructing the states of the South as separate culturally within the United States
• Assess the perspective of the enslavers, and how this changed.
• Understand the nature of life in the slave communities of the South; where the points of tension were; where there was flexibility; where the enslaved were able to sustain families, economies, and religious worship, and where they were not.
• Understand the realities of the slave markets of the South and the psychological impact not just of enslavement but of sale.
• Assess and control the vast historiography related to this topic of historical research
• Undertake independent research in online primary material so as to construct their own argument(s) about the impact of enslavement upon the enslaved.
• Assess the available evidence as regards the ending of slavery over the course of America’s civil war
• Examine the realities of refugee camps, and be able to draw meaningful (not anachronistic) comparisons with the contemporary experience.
• Understand why the passage of the 13th Amendment was so contentious and how it was finally passed.
• Discuss, objectively, the long-term legacy of the history of enslavement on the African American population of the United States and on the nation more broadly.

Intended Skill Outcomes

• Develop and improve their skills in research, critical reading and reasoning, sustained discussion
and appropriate presentation of the results.
• Learn to use, effectively, a broad range of primary and secondary material, and be able to extract from this
evidence both in support of and contradicting the writings of historians on slavery
• Develop their skills at using material available online relating to this topic, and specifically to show that they can use, effectively, the available online material for research and analysis purposes
• Interact effectively with other students on this module via joint seminar presentations.
• Show that they are able to maintain a level of week-to-week work by contributing to each seminar
fully and sensibly in an informed manner.
• Work effectively in small groups to put together presentations and research papers.
• Develop the capacity for independent study and critical judgement and the ability to respond effectively, cogently and clearly to any unexpected or unanticipated questions arising from this study.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion551:0055:00For two summative assessments.
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials111:0011:00On-line asynchronous lectures and documentary analyses. Part of student contact hours.
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading551:0055:00For seminar discussion.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching112:0022:00Seminars: PiP or as required.
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities31:003:00Documentary Analyses online.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study541:0054:00From reading guides provided.
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The teaching methods deployed in this module have been designed so as to match the learning outcomes and prepare students for the tripartite assessment structure. They comprise:

•       First and most obviously, reading. But there is so much potential secondary reading on this topic, more than any other in American history, that specific teaching skills have to be brought into play in order to help the student navigate what could be an unwieldy pile of books and articles. So the background (asynchronous) lectures will include guidance on the broad historiographical landscape up to now; the seminars (two-hour) will devote about 50% of their time to discussion and critique of secondary material, its approach, its sources, the appropriateness of both to the arguments etc. (this being one of the most contentious aspects of the study of enslavement in America).
•       Seminars will also introduce students to the use and analysis of primary material, including: appropriate sampling methods; the use of available online databases on, for example, slave runaway adverts, or the origins of slave shipping etc.
•       The broader seminar discussion and formative assessment, which will include presentations by the students themselves. This will require a degree of independent research into some of the online primary evidence, such as the WPA Slave Narratives, in order to test the extent to which students are acquiring the necessary research skills to interrogate material that is, in its nature, both dramatic and disturbing, and reach appropriate and considered conclusions about it.
•       The seminar discussions will also allow students to test out ideas, and share information they have gleaned from both primary and secondary material.
•       Finally, the cumulative effect of the teaching methods will give the students the confidence, by the module’s end, to discuss the fraught yet fascinating subject of enslavement and its legacy in an objective and considered manner, deploying evidence not just emotion, in making a case (for whatever essay topic they select to do).

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1A602000 word essay; at end of module.
Research paper1M401500 word paper based on independent research into primary source materials.
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Oral Presentation1MOral presentation on either historiography or primary material with accompanying Powerpoint. 500 words.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

•       The tripartite assessment structure is specifically designed to test each of the main three elements being taught in this module: independent research and analysis; historiographical assessment; and the ability to cogently and concisely argue a case.
•       Primary and secondary source analysis and commentary, together with the essay, tests knowledge and understanding of the texts set for the module and the primary material that is its focus.
•       The ability to compare and contrast related source texts on a common subject.
•       The ability to expound and criticize a text lucidly, succinctly and with relevance in a relatively brief word limit.
•       Formative assessment mid-module forms a means of determining student progress.
•       Submitted work, tests, intended knowledge and skills outcomes develops key skills in research, reading and writing.
•       No restrictions apply to study-abroad, exchange and Loyola students, but they are required to finish their assessment while in Newcastle as it is a Semester 1 module.

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending semester 1 only are required to finish their assessment while in Newcastle. Where an exam is present, an alternative form of assessment will be set and where coursework is present, an alternative deadline will be set. Details of the alternative assessment will be provided by the module leader.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2022/23 academic year. In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described. Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2023/24 entry will be published here in early-April 2023. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.