HIST311: The Age of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1500-1900

Course Syllabus for "HIST311: The Age of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1500-1900"

Please note: this legacy course does not offer a certificate and may contain broken links and outdated information. Although archived, it is open for learning without registration or enrollment. Please consider contributing updates to this course on GitHub (you can also adopt, adapt, and distribute this course under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license). To find fully-supported, current courses, visit our Learn site.

This course will introduce you to the history of the Atlantic slave trade from 1500 to 1900. You will learn about the slave trade, its causes, and its effects on Africa, Europe, and the Americas. The course will be structured chronologically and geographically; each unit with focus on a particular aspect of the Atlantic slave trade. Each unit will include representative primary-source documents that illustrate important overarching political, economic, and social themes, such as slavery and the slave trade within African societies, the growth of plantation societies in the New World, the advent of European slave dealing in western Africa, the simultaneous growth of European empires and the Atlantic slave trade, the nature of slave trading and the Middle Passage, and the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade in the nineteenth century. By the end of the course, you will understand how the Atlantic slave trade began as a fledgling enterprise of the English, Portuguese, and Spanish in the 1500s and why, by the mid-18th century, the trade dominated Atlantic societies and economies.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • analyze the various meanings of slave and slavery during the age of the Atlantic slave trade; 
  • identify and describe the triangular trade, and define the Atlantic World;
  • identify and describe the logic for enslavement of Africans by Europeans;
  • identify and describe the African ethnic groups enslaved by Europeans and those captives’ New World destinations;
  • identify and describe the early slaving voyages of the Portuguese and Spanish, and describe how the Dutch and English later inserted themselves into the trade;
  • identify and describe the expansion of the plantation complex in the New World in the 1600s and its impact on the Atlantic slave trade;
  • identify and analyze the rise of European empires and the parallel expansion of the Atlantic slave trade;
  • identify and analyze slavery within African societies, as well as identify and describe the trans-Saharan slave trade and the Red Sea/Indian Ocean slave trade;
  • identify and describe the nature of the African slave market and principal slaving ports in western Africa;
  • analyze and describe New World slave societies and their impact on the Atlantic slave trade;
  • identify and describe the Middle Passage of the Atlantic slave trade;
  • identify and describe the causes for the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade in the 19th century; and
  • analyze and interpret primary source documents that elucidate all aspects of the Atlantic slave trade.

Course Requirements

In order to take this course, you must:

√    have access to a computer;

√    have continuous broadband Internet access;

√    have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g. Adobe Reader of Flash);

√    have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer;

√    have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.);

√    be competent in the English language;

√    have read the Saylor Student Handbook; and

√    have completed all courses listed in “The Core Program” of the History discipline (HIST101 through HIST104).

Course Information

Welcome to HIST311. Below, please find some general information about the course and its requirements.

Primary Resources: This course comprises a range of different free, online materials. However, the course makes primary use of the following materials:

Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials. Pay special attention to Unit 1 as this provides background information about the origins of the Atlantic slave trade; this unit will help you understand the more advanced, exploratory material in the latter units. You will also need to complete:

  • The Final Exam

Note that you will only receive an official grade on your final exam. However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to work through all of the materials in each unit and consider the study questions in the instructions sections.
In order to pass this course, you will need to earn a 70% of higher on the final exam. Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.

Time Commitment: This course should take you a total of 65.75 hours. Each unit includes a time advisory that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit. These should help you plan your time accordingly. It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories, determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then to set goals for yourself. For example, Unit 1 should take you 7.5 hours. Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete subunit 1.1 (a total of 3.25 hours) on Monday night; subunit 1.2 (a total of 4.25 hours) on Tuesday night; etc.

Tips/Suggestions: As you study each resource, make sure to take comprehensive notes. Write down any dates, events, names, definitions, and other historical concepts that stand out to you. These notes will be useful as you study and prepare for your final exam.

Table of Contents: You can find the course's units at the links below.