The Transatlantic Slave Trade, a Three Part Course with author Dr. Richard Bell - Context Travel

The Transatlantic Slave Trade, a Three Part Course with author Dr. Richard Bell


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In three lectures, Dr. Richard Bell, a University of Maryland Professor and published author, will guide us through the rise of the transatlantic slave trade in the British Empire, fighting the slave trade in Africa and the struggles endured on the Middle Passage.

From a trickle in the early 15th century to a flood four hundred years later, the transatlantic slave trade was the largest forced migration in human history. In all, more than 12 million African men, women, and children were kidnapped, enslaved and made to board European ships destined for the New World.

This new international slave trade was demand-driven and was buoyed by the creation of vast new cash crop economies in the Americas. But until the end of the 16th Century, England had no New World colonies of its own and languished on the sidelines of this booming transatlantic economy. That all changed in the 1560s when an Englishman named John Hawkins led three slaving voyages to the west coast of Africa. Two hundred years later, the British controlled most of the transatlantic slave trade, and had long since perfected this evil enterprise, transporting ever larger numbers of once free Africans to new lives and labors on American plantations.

This three-part course explores the rise of the transatlantic slave trade—but from an unfamiliar perspective. After a stage-setting first lecture examining Hawkins’ rollercoaster career and the rise of the Royal African Company in the decades after his death, lectures two and three turn this history upside down, focusing in upon the varieties of resistance to the transatlantic slave trade mounted by Africans in Africa (lecture two) and on the great ocean-going slave ships that served as floating prisons (lecture three). The lectures are weekly on Wednesdays at 5pm EDT.

Lecture 1: The Rise of Slave Trading in the British Empire Beginning with the three voyages of John Hawkins in the 1560s, this lecture tracks the rise of the British Slave Trade. Relying on royal patronage, British traders would ultimately ship more enslaved Africans to the New World than any other European nation before 1807. 

Lecture 2: Fighting the Slave Trade in Africa This lecture examines varieties of resistance to the Transatlantic Slave Trade within Africa, before any African captives ever boarded the great prison hulks that would carry them across the Atlantic. It argues that local resistance could be pre-emptive, defensive, or offensive, and defines and illustrates each term. 

Lecture 3: Fighting Slavery on the Middle Passage This lecture explores what it looks like for Africans to fight slavery on the Middle Passage. We go beyond statistics to examine all sorts of acts of resistance, from individual acts like refusing to eat to violent shipboard revolts that pitted slaves against sailors. 

Dr. Richard Bell is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland. He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University and is the recipient of the National Endowment of the Humanities Public Scholar award. He has won more than a dozen teaching awards and has held major research fellowships at Yale, Cambridge, and the Library of Congress. He has published a number of books; his latest is "Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and their Astonishing Odyssey Home".

There are no required readings, but some recommended titles include:

  • William A. Pettigrew, Freedom's Debt: The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672-1752 (Chapel Hill: University of orth Carolina Press, 2013)
  • Sylviane A. Diouf ed, Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies (Columbus: Ohio University Press, 2003)
  • Stephanie E. Smallwood, Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008)

How does it work? 
This is a three-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?
There are no required readings, but there are some recommended titles. See above.

How long are the lectures? 
Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How long is the course?
The course is 3 weeks long, with one lecture each week.

How much is the course?
The course is $105 for 3 lectures.

Is a recording available?
In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is suitable for all ages

Each lecture is 90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.