HST6092: Women and Slavery in the Antebellum American South

HST6092 Image

15 credits (Semester 2019-20: Spring)

Module Leader: Dr R.J. Knight

Module Summary

"Intersectional paradigms remind us that oppression cannot be reduced to one fundamental type, and that oppressions work together in producing injustice". Patricia Hill Collins

The intersections of race, gender, and class rendered black women’s enslavement distinct, shaping their identities, their roles, and their relationships with other enslaved people and their enslavers, as well as the forms of exploitation they experienced as women, workers, and mothers. This module explores how historians have located, detailed, and conceptualised the lives of enslaved women; the methods and sources they have used; and the influences of black feminist theory on the history of enslaved women.

The module will introduce you to the historiography of enslaved women in the American south and the concept of intersectionality; thereafter, you will explore historians' approaches to enslaved women’s history through key themes, including medicine, motherhood, and resistance; and their use of sources that range from interviews with formerly enslaved women, to plantation manuals, medical literature, and nineteenth-century 'slave narratives.'

By considering 'perhaps, the most vulnerable group of antebellum Americans’ (Deborah Gray White, 1985), this module aims for students to reflect more broadly on historians' means of uncovering and interpreting the lives of marginalised people.

Draft seminar schedule:

  1. History at the intersections
  2. Community and culture
  3. Resistance
  4. Family and motherhood
  5. Medicine and the body


Module aims

This module aims to:

  1. Introduce you to key developments in the history and historiography of enslaved women in the American south
  2. Familiarise you with a variety of approaches, methods, and sources employed in constructing the history of enslaved women
  3. Develop your ability to relate concepts in black feminist theory, and intersectionality in particular, to the history of slavery
  4. Develop your fluency of expression in speech and writing

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, you should (be able to):

  1. Discuss and detail key aspects of enslaved women’s lives, roles, and relationships in the antebellum south (Aims 1, 2)
  2. Analyse literature on the distinctiveness of black women’s enslavement (Aims 2, 3)
  3. Evaluate the strengths and limitations of different approaches to enslaved women’s history through application to a piece of historical research (Aims 1, 2, 3, 4)
  4. Express verbal ideas confidently, both in individual seminar contribution and group work (Aims 1, 2, 3, 4)
  5. Present interpretations and supporting evidence in clear and persuasive prose (Aims 1, 2, 3, 4)


Learning hours
Seminar hours Tutorial hours Independent Learning
10 1 139

The module will be taught in five two-hour classes. Seminars will provide you with an opportunity to discuss theoretical and methodological issues (A2, A3, LO2, LO3), while also exploring historiography (A1, LO1, LO2, LO3).

You will be expected to participate in class discussion and undertake independent research on approaches to the history of enslaved women, which you will be asked to share through informal discussion and (depending on numbers) group-led sections (A4, LO4). Some time in seminars will be given to considering how to turn the issues explored into strong written work (A4, LO5).

You will, in addition, have individual tutorial contact with the module leader in order to discuss your written work for the module.



Assessment methods
Assessment % of final mark Length
Coursework 100% 3000 words

You will prepare a 3,000-word paper on a topic agreed with the tutor. The paper will be expected to draw critically on relevant secondary sources and, if appropriate, will also involve scholarly analysis of primary sources (LOs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)


Selected reading

  • Angela Davis, Women, Race, & Class (1982)
  • Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South (1985)
  • Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, ed. 2 (New York, 2000)
  • Stephanie M.H. Camp, ‘The Pleasures of Resistance: Enslaved Women and Body Politics in the Plantation South, 1830-1861’, Journal of Southern History, 68, 3 (2002), 533-72
  • Jennifer Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery (2004)
  • Thavolia Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage, The Transformation of the Plantation Household (2008)
  • Marie Jenkins Schwartz, Birthing a Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South (2010)
  • Emily West, ‘Reflections on the History and Historians of the black woman’s role in the community of slaves: enslaved women and intimate partner sexual violence’, American Nineteenth Century History, 19, 1 (2018), 1-22



*The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.