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COURSE NAME: "African Atlantic: Slavery and Beyond"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2020

EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 11:30-12:50 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: Junior Standing; Corequisite: EN 110

History Research Seminar300-level history courses designated by the prefix HS-RS indicate courses being offered as Research Seminars. These courses are writing-intensive and help to train students to carry out original research by guiding them through the preparation of a significant research paper. History majors are encouraged to take these before their senior year, and especially before the semester in which they prepare their thesis.
This course explores the roles played by and the experiences of Africans and their descendents in the Atlantic World from the development of regular trading contacts between West Africans and Europeans in the fifteenth century through the early stages of emancipation in the first half of the nineteenth century. Central themes are the development of distinctively African-American cultural patterns and identities, the diversity of African and African-American experiences, and African and African-American contributions to the making of the modern world.

Satisfies "Early Modern History" core course requirement for History majors.
This course will primarily be run as a research seminar that will be composed of a mixture of in-class discussion and on-line discussion (Moodle) of course readings and your research.  For an overview of topics to be discussed and readings, see the course schedule.  Please note that all updates to that course schedule will be made directly to the course Moodle page--you should access it on a regular basis.

A Note on How to Approach this Semester (and How I Am Doing So)

As we all know too well, the Fall 2020 semester will likely be anything but business as usual.  The ways in which we will be mixing in-person and on-line interactions as well as possible unanticipated rapid transitions between them may present challenges to us all. 

I am convinced that whatever may come we can and will have a meaningful semester in which we all learn a lot, but we will have to keep in mind doing so may require even greater flexibility, consideration for one another, and self-discipline on all of our parts than usual. We will all be facing learning curves as we go forward and in all likelihood we all will make judgments that afterwards we would not make again (I hesitate to call such judgments mistakes as that suggests that we know that in advance, as opposed to being things we try and then learn from).

For these reasons, please know that the ways in which I am proposing structuring classroom sessions and on-line discussion activities in this syllabus are admittedly experimental and may change.  Please share your thoughts on them and feel free to suggest approaches, ways of organizing discussions (in-person or on-line), or other activities that you believe may help you and your classmates to better engage with the course material.  I cannot neglect my responsibility to set the rules for the game that is our course in ways that I believe best assure both academic rigor and fairness across the class, but you can be assured that I will value and carefully consider any suggestions you may make. 

More generally, I am committed to the principle that my aims as an undergraduate history instructor should be to push (and to help) you to develop the skills, capacities, and modes of interpretation and understanding that will allow you to engage critically with the human past, the traces it has left, the ever-renewing knowledge we have of it, and its meanings for our present.  My role is that of a ‘coach,’ not a performer playing a show or a talking head telling you what’s what (although sometimes I will suggest my understandings of that too).  With this approach, you will without doubt learn more and develop abilities that are useful in other settings more fully than if I simply lectured and asked you to repeat that material on exams, and you will likely find what we do more interesting too. However, for this approach to work, you need to commit yourselves to the following:

1.  Do the course reading on a timely basis.  You absolutely must complete it before the class in which we are discussing it and/or the deadline for making a related forum post (if you can finish it even earlier and thus have a bit more time to think about it, that’s even better).  Frequently this course will involve a significant amount of out-of-class reading.  This may be a challenge for some of you, but we collectively need an ample amount of solid material to work with to make our discussions meaningful.  Also, do know that with practice you will develop your abilities to deal with larger amounts of reading in limited time frames.  We will talk more about how to do the reading and the kinds of things you should be looking for in doing it in class.

2.  Respect deadlines for discussion forum posts, and whenever possible post (and respond to classmates’ posts) sooner rather than later.  While these posts do count towards your participation grade, they are not ‘homework’ that you should do to show me that you are doing the work.  Rather, they are opportunities for you to develop, share, and debate your thoughts and questions about the reading and other course material with one another.  We have to meet deadlines to give that interaction space to happen.

3.  Maintain a respectful, professional tone in your posts and responses, but don’t be afraid to experiment with ideas and interpretations out of fear that they may be controversial (just work on clearly expressing your reasoning).  On this note, I think our discussions will function best if we all work on the assumption that each of us is openly and forthrightly attempting to grapple with the complexities and ambiguities of our shared human past and its relationship to our present (and that the things we say and write are never intended to harm or to insult).  Engaging with that past often forces us to look at the many horrid and ugly things that humans have done (and continue to do) to one another, which can be a difficult and painful experience.  Frank and open discussion is the best way both to seek to understand that past and to forge civil and tolerant ways of interacting and living with it and one another in the present.

4.  Give credit where credit is due, and be sure that all work you hand in is your own.  I do not believe that point needs extensive discussion.  Not only does plagiarism or any other form of cheating defeat the whole purpose of going to university to learn and to improve one’s abilities, it undermines the basic trust any community needs to learn and work together.

5.  Try not to be too nervous about grades.  We learn by practice, we all fall short of our aims sometimes, and we sometimes learn more from falling short than anything else.  I purposefully keep many assignments open in terms of the types of topics and arguments you may develop to give you the freedom to present your ideas and sharpen your abilities, and such freedom always entails risks.  Know that I put mechanisms in place to weigh the improvement that you make over the course into the calculation of your final course grade.

6.  Keep lines of communication open—if you have questions or concerns, raise them.


In successfully completing this course, you should work on developing (and improving) the following competencies and skills:

  • An understanding of the scope, nature, and significance of African participation in and contributions to the development of the early modern Atlantic World
  • An awareness of the wide varieties of African and Afro-American experiences and activities in the early modern Atlatnic World
  • An understanding of various scholarly approaches to questions regarding the development of Afro-Atlantic and Afro-American cutlures in this era
  • Evaluating/analyzing differing scholarly arguments/ interpretations of historical problems (including ethnohistorical approaches)
  • Understanding how context and audience contribute to shape historical interpretation/perspective
  • Formulating a research question about a historical topic
  • Assembling and critically evaluating primary and secondary sources
  • An awareness of the importance of finding, using and producing reliable information
  • Respecting academic integrity and ethical standards
  • Effectively communicating information and ideas orally and in writing in accurate, polished, and persuasive English
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400–1800 2nd editionJohn ThorntonCambridge University Press978-0521627245 Available at the Almost Corner Bookshop
Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American DiasporaStephanie E. SmallwoodHarvard University Press978-0674030688 Available at the Almost Corner Bookshop

Participation (In-Class and On-Line)Your regular participation in our class discussions will be key to making this course work, and by actively participating not only will you learn more, you’ll develop useful communicative skills and likely find course material to be more interesting. Participation also counts for a significant portion of your final course grade, and it is the only component of that final course grade in which simple effort and regular activity translate directly into a high grade. What do you need to do for this? Simply do the discussion readings on time, be ready to talk about them, and engage regularly and actively in some combination of our in-class discussions and the Moodle discussion forums for the course. For further information on the nature of our Moodle discussion forums and 'minimum' expectations for on-line participation see the course schedule (and the forums themselves on Moodle).20%
Take-Home Midterm ExamThis take-home exam (which has replaced the planned group project) will be composed of one essay making use of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2-3 double-spaced pages, c. 500-800 words) and another essay responding to a question building on course readings to date (3-5 double-spaced pages, c. 800-1300 words). You are expected to cite any authors and works you use in developing your arguments. Your grade on the exam will depend upon the analytical strength and persuasiveness of your arguments, your capacity to discuss the material we cover in the course (including level of mastery of course readings), and the factual accuracy of your answers. Remember that what you are being tested on is your ability to develop and present a strong, well-supported argument building on the course materials, not simply provide a 'correct' answer to the question you choose. Further instructions are posted on the course Moodle page.20%
Research Paper (including draft, revision, and presentation, 12-15 pages)For the research paper (12-15 pages), you will explore a topic appropriate for the course chosen in consultation with me. Your paper should build on both primary and secondary sources, and in preparing it, I will guide you through the processes of preparing a first draft and revising that draft to produce a stronger final paper. You also will present this paper to the rest of the class for discussion. For these discussions, each of you will also review at least one of your colleagues’ papers, providing both a written review (for the author and for me) and an oral commentary during the discussion of her/his paper in class. The grade on this assignment will be determined by the strength of your analysis and research, the persuasiveness of your argument (including quality of writing), and the originality of your thought. 30%
Take-Home Final ExamThe final exam will be composed of two essay questions I will give you the week before the exam is due. You will answer one of those questions in a take-home essay (5-7double-spaced pages, c. 1200-1800 words). You are expected to cite any authors and works you use in developing your arguments. Your grade on the exam will depend upon the analytical strength and persuasiveness of your arguments, your capacity to discuss the material we cover in the course as a whole (including level of mastery of course readings), and the factual accuracy of your answers. Remember that what you are being tested on is your ability to develop and present a strong, well-supported argument building on the course materials, not simply provide a 'correct' answer to the question you choose. It will be due on the last day of the final exam period.30%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant, thorough, and insightful engagement with the course reading and other materials.
BThis is a highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised. There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluate theory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture and reference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of significant engagement with the course reading and other materials.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performance demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material. Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included. In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

See above on participation.  To participate regularly, you have to be present regularly.
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Important Course Policies

All assignments should be handed in through the Moodle portal for the assignment.

All late work will be penalized by at least one letter grade. No late work will be accepted following the final examination.

Any documented case of academic dishonesty on any assignment will result in a failing grade for the assignment in question and may also result in a failing grade for the course as a whole, regardless of the assignment's weight in terms of the final course grade. Please remember that, as the University's policy states, "Plagiarism can be deliberate or negligent; students are responsible for ensuring that any work submitted with their name on it is properly referenced."  If you have questions about how to cite material properly, refer to the appropriate sections of the MLA Style Manual or Chicago Manual of Style--if you have questions as to whether particular pieces of material should be cited, ask me. Note that submitting work that you have previously submitted (or plan to submit) for credit in another course is also a form of academic dishonesty, unless you obtain explicit approval from both instructors to do so. For this course, no such double submission is allowed. Please note that your papers and take-home exams are to be submitted to turnitin.com to check their content for plagiarism. I am setting up the turintin submission options so that you can see the similarity reports the service generates and resubmit your papers up until the due date.


Office Hours, Scheduling Appointments, E-mail Guidance, etc.

My office hours are posted on the course Moodle page along with a link for attending them--following JCU suggestions, they will be carried out remotely using MS Teams this semester.  If you need to schedule an appointment to speak with me, simply send me an e-mail identifying times during the upcoming week when you are available.  Please know that I do not normally respond to e-mails during the weekend or after 6:30-7 p.m. (but do feel free to write me at those times--I'll answer at the beginning of the next week or the next day).  In the context of mixed on-line and in-class education, it is even more important for all of us to set aside time to work on other things, disconnect, recharge, and 'stay human.'  I encourage you to do the same in ways that work with your schedule, and am trying to do what I can to provide as much flexibility as possible for you in structuring on-line and other out-of-class activities. 


Types and Formats of On-line Moodle Discussion Forums

“Questions for the Professor” Forum:  Use this forum to ask for clarifications regarding material that we discussed in class or if there is something in the readings that you feel remains unclear, confusing, etc..  Also try to read through this regularly to see if a classmate asked a question that you too have, but just hadn’t thought of yet.  When you do so, if you feel that you can answer a classmate’s query, please feel free to go ahead and do so.  I will review this forum the Mondays and Wednesdays before class meetings—depending on the nature of the question I’ll either respond directly in the forum or we’ll talk about it at the beginning of the next class session.  (This forum closes at noon on Monday of the following week—if you realize you have a question after it’s closed simply post your question on the next week’s “Questions for the Professor Forum under the “Questions about something from earlier in the semester” topic.”)

“Your Discussion Questions and Observations” Forum:  For each class session, you should post a question or observation about the readings (e.g., for the second class of the first week of class, the first chapter of Thornton's Africa and Africans and/or the assigned primary source) that you believe would provide a good way of starting a discussion about them and the subject they treat.  You should post your questions/observations by the beginning of the class in which we will be discussing the readings in question (e.g., if they are on Tuesday’s reading, make your post no later than 11:25 a.m. on Tuesday).  Try to read through what is posted before class yourselves too—in that way you can better prepare yourself for whatever we end up talking about.  Feel free to build on your classmate’s questions/observations, and if there’s a post you want to respond to that we don’t end up talking about in class, please feel free to continue the discussion here.  There is no specific required length for your posts (if you likely need 2-3 sentences to situate and raise your question/make your prompt).  This weekly forum closes at 12 p.m. on Monday of the following week, but if there’s a strand of discussion you think we should continue into the next week because it remains relevant to the next topics we are discussing feel free to start it anew in the next week’s forum. (Maximum expected time per week, not including the time needed to do the reading: 15-30 minutes)

“Reflecting on the Week, Continuing our Classroom Discussion” Forums: For this weekly forum, I will post a few discussion questions or prompts based on the week’s readings and the material I anticipate us discussing in class.  On occasion, as the week goes on, I’ll also add a few of the questions/prompts that you put up on the “Your Discussion Questions and Observations” Forum.  You should post at least one response to at least one of these threads and at least one response to a classmate's post each week. Of course, feel free to post as much as you like. There is no specific required length for your posts (if you likely need a few sentences to make your point effectively).  This weekly forum closes at 12 p.m. on Monday of the following week. (Maximum expected time per week, not including the time needed to do the reading: 15-30 minutes)


In-Class Organizational Matters Whenever Some Students Are Either Absent or Attending Remotely

In light of the very particular nature of this semester, should any member of the class not be physically present in the classroom, we will have to record the class session.  In addition, whenever one or more members of the class are following the day's session remotely, I will need to ask one or more of those of you who are present to monitor the MS Teams stream and inform me should a remote student raise the hand icon or intervene by means of the Teams chat.


Accessing the Course Remotely

If you are obliged to follow the course remotely, you can find a link for accessing the course stream at the top of the course Moodle page.  Clicking on the link there should then bring you to the MS Teams meeting where we will stream class sessions.


Course Schedule (Please note that the following is subject to change--any updates will be made directly to the course Moodle page.  All discussion readings are available on the course Moodle page.)

9/22 Introductions—The Atlantic World? African Atlantic? Beyond Slavery? 

9/24 Opening the Atlantic—Africans and Iberians (Thornton, 1-42; Azurara, “The Beginnings of a Regular European Trade”)


9/29 Atlantic Trade and Its Effects in Africa (Thornton, 43-71; Northrup, “Atlantic Exports and Technology”)  

10/1 Slavery in West Africa (Thornton, 72-97; Piot, “Of Slaves and the Gift,” 31-49)  


10/6 The Atlantic Slave Trade, I--Numbers and the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database (Curtin, "A Historian's Recount;" Eltis and Richardson, "The Achievements of the 'Numbers Game;'" https://www.slavevoyages.org/)

10/8 The Atlantic Slave Trade, II—Effects in Africa (Thornton, 98-125; Rodney, “The Unequal Partnership Between Africans and Europeans,” 89-96; Manning, “Social and Demographic Transformations,” 97-110) 

10/9 OFFICIAL FRIDAY MAKE-UP: The Atlantic Slave Trade, III—To and On The African Coast (Smallwood, 1-64)  


10/13 The Atlantic Slave Trade, IV: Numbers from the Traders’ Point of View (Smallwood, 65-100)  

10/15 The Atlantic Slave Trade, V—Experiencing the Middle Passage (Smallwood, 101-152; Equiano, The Interesting Narrative (Excerpts))

10/16 OFFICIAL FRIDAY MAKE-UP: The Atlantic Slave Trade VI—American Arrivals (Smallwood, 153-207)  


10/20  The Beginnings of American Slavery (Thornton, 129-151)

10/22 The Atlantic Slave Trade, VI—Numbers, Mortality, Routes and Meanings

 Transatlantic Slave Trade Database Project—Group Presentation and Discussions




10/27 Plantation Life: Work, Culture and Terror (Thornton, 152-182; Brown, “Spiritual Terror and Sacred Authority in Jamaican Slave Society,” 24-53)

Transatlantic Slave Trade Database Project—Write-ups Due Tuesday, October 27 (11:59 p.m.)


10/29 More than Manpower—The “Black Rice” Debate (Carney, “The African Origins of American Rice;” Eltis, Morgan and Richardson, “Problems with the ‘Black Rice’ Thesis)


11/3 Africa in America: Nations and Ethnicity (Thornton, 183-205; TBA)

11/5 African America: Creolization (Thornton, 206-234; TBA)  


11/10 Afro-American Religions: Christianity and Vodùn (Thornton, 235-271; TBA)

11/12 Resistance, I:  Everyday Opposition and Accommodation (Thornton, 272-279; TBA)  

11/13 OFFICIAL FRIDAY MAKE-UP:  Resistance II: Escape and Independent Afro-American Societies—Maroon Communities (Thornton, 280-300; TBA)


11/17 Resistance, III: Rebellions and Conspiracies (Thornton, 300-303; TBA)  

11/19 Research Presentations and Discussions (Draft Due One Week Earlier)

11/24 Research Presentations and Discussions (Draft Due One Week Earlier) 

11/26 Slavery and Slave Resistance in the Age of Revolutions, I (Thornton, 304-334)


12/1 Slavery and Slave Resistance in the Age of Revolutions, II (TBA)  

12/3 Emancipation? (TBA)


12/10 Sailing Back: Afro-American Views of Africa (De Groot, “The Bush Negro Chiefs Visit Africa: Diary of a Historic Trip,” 389-398; Campbell, “Representing the Race,” 57-98 (focus on pages 76-90))

Final Draft of Research Paper Due (11:59 p.m.)


12/14 (MONDAY) TAKE-HOME FINAL EXAM DUE (11:59 p.m.)