The great majority of the 12 million enslaved Africans deported to the Americas during the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries ended up working on plantations in Brazil and the Caribbean. Sugar, cacao, indigo, tobacco, cotton and coffee were the main commodities slaves produced for the rapidly expanding European markets. But slavery did not only provide crucial inputs for developing capitalism, it also entered cultural representations of the other. Enlightened writers reflected about its legitimacy or the fundamental differences between what was increasingly perceived as 'races'. Hence slavery in the Americas contributed in many ways to the making of the modern world.
The module will focus on the different plantation societies that were established in Brazil, British Jamaica, the French Caribbean (Saint-Domingue/Haiti) and the Spanish colonies (Venezuela and Cuba). We will examine how local conditions (environment and geopolitics) and external factors (such as the demands on the world market, religion, law and customs of the colonial power, and the African cultural backgrounds of the slaves) combined to shape the characteristics of every slave society. Introductory lectures will address the development of slavery in time and space, followed by thematic sessions dealing with gender, family, religion, culture and resistance. The work in class will mainly deal with documents written by travellers, priests, and government officials and, more exceptionally, by overseers and the enslaved themselves. The discussion of these primary sources will allow us to gain new insights into the everyday reality of slavery