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From Captivity to Commodification: Slavery in Global History


Admission requirements



As a practice in which human beings were held captive for an indefinite period of time, coerced into extremely dependent and exploitive power relationships, denied rights (including potentially rights over their labor, lives, and bodies), could be bought and sold, and forced to labor against their will, slavery in one form or another has existed in innumerable societies across time and space. This lecture series aims to enhance students’ understanding of slavery as a global and a globalizing institution in world history.

First, it emphasizes the global nature of slavery by drawing from guest lectures by experts specialized in various regions and periods. Each lecture will showcase a different Leiden scholar’s research on slavery in his/her particular subfield. Lectures will illuminate various aspects of slavery and post-slavery in diverse settings, including ancient Rome, the medieval Mediterranean, Eastern Europe and the Ottoman Empire, the Caribbean, North America, the Indian Ocean, and modern Africa. The subthemes they will discuss will include topics such as forced migration, cultural and ideological underpinnings of slavery, slave-master relations, resistance, and emancipation processes.

Second, this lecture series emphasizes how slavery by definition connects (and has connected) societies on a global scale. As such it intersects historians’ growing interest in global history, including global migrations and interactions, warfare, trade routes, and economic expansion. Global history focuses heavily upon the global movement of people, goods, and ideas, with a particular emphasis on processes of integration and divergence in the human experience. Slavery straddles these focal points, as it integrated various societies through economic and power-based relationships, and simultaneously divided societies by class, race, ethnicity, and cultural group. As such slavery can be considered a globalizing force in world history.

Course objectives

General learning objectives
The student can:

    1. organise and use relatively large amounts of information
    1. reflect critically on knowledge and understanding as presented in academic literature

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

    1. The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically of {choose from list below}
    • {in the specialisation Economic History} the worldwide interaction of trading networks in the early modern period, the nineteenth century industrialisation of the Netherlands in a worldwide perspective, and the political economy of a globalising economy in the twentieth century;
    • {in the specialisation Social History} the differences of class, gender, ethnicity and religion; the transfer of people, goods and ideas; connections between people (individually and collectively), companies, states and (international) organisations (including churches) from 1600. Insights from this are used to explain current events and developments;
  • Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific lecture series*

    1. The student will gain a firm understanding of the differences and similarities in slavery in various time periods and regions throughout world history.
    1. The student will understand how slavery connects (and has connected) societies throughout world history, and will be able to explain the globalizing nature of slavery.
    1. The student will gain a thorough understanding of the character of slavery in various settings, including themes such as slave trading, forced migration, resistance, power relationships between slaves and masters, cultural and ideological underpinnings of slavery, and emancipation processes.


See Rooster/timetable Geschiedenis (in Dutch)

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

Course Load

Total course load: 140 hours

  • Amount of lectures: 2 hours per week x 13 weeks = 26 hours

  • Assessment: 2 exams = 6 hours

  • Literature (preparation for lectures and assessment): 108 hours

Assessment method

The course and all its learning objectievs will be assessed through two subtests:

  • Midterm examination: written examination with essay questions

  • Final examination: written examination with essay questions

Midterm examination: 50%
Final examination: 50%

The final mark for the course is establised by determination of the weighted average.

Sudents are allowed to take again those subtests that were marked insufficient. The resit exam will take place on one single resit, at which both subtests are offered. For this resit three hours will be reserved, so that students will be able to retake both subtests, if necessary.
Please note that students can only take a resit when their final grade is insufficient. Subtests that were marked sufficient cannot be retaken.

Examination dates
For the examination dates, see Rooster/aanmelding Geschiedenis (in Dutch)



Reading list

Gad Heuman and Trevor Burnard, eds., The Routledge History of Slavery (New York: Routledge, 2012).
Secondary literature (to be announced at the first class)


Via uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


mr. Dr. D.A. Pargas
mr. Dr. K.J. Fatah-Black


Not applicable.