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Africa Enslaved: A Curriculum Unit on Comparative Slave Systems for Grades 9-12

CoverThis unit explores comparative slave systems outside of the US, with particular focus on Latin America (Brazil and Haiti), Africa (the Swahili Coast), and the Middle East (Ottoman Egypt).

The subject of slavery is at once both fascinating and terrifying, revealing a sad and shameful chapter in human history, one that often provokes strong emotions and continues to have an impact in the socio-economic and cultural realms in many countries and cultures. Slavery in an institution with roots in the earliest recorded human histories. The Narmer Palette, arguably the oldest political document still in existence, dating from at least 3000 BCE, contains images of captives being paraded before a victorious king in a kingdom that existed in Egypt before Egypt itself. Despite the official abolition of slavery in every country on earth, contemporary slave systems can still be found worldwide.

Africa Enslaved was designed and developed over the course of nearly two years. Early in the design phase, we chose to focus specifically on historical examples of slavery in locations outside the United States. We chose historical examples in order to take advantage of the many excellent monographs and compilations of primary source documents that have been published on our chosen case studies. Our decision to exclude the United States from the unit stems from the fact that discussion of slavery forms an important component of American history courses, while slavery elsewhere is generally not a topic included in world history courses.

The UNESCO Map of the Slave Route includes a wealth of information combined into a unique document. Questions and comprehension exercises related to the case studies that follow are included with the map in order to help frame each in the context of the global phenomenon. Summary charts are included to help students organize their thoughts and raise questions as they complete the individual case studies, and also to provide guidance for independent research on U.S. slave systems.

The case studies themselves are organized in a Document-Based-Question (DBQ) style that guides students through a range of topics, including the legal status of slaves, slave labor, rights and responsibilities of slaves and slave-owners, slaves and religion, rebellions, runaways and emancipation, and abolition movements. An introductory reading provides the historical background for each case study, and an accompanying map provides a geographic context. Each unit also has a glossary of specialized terminologies used in the case study.

This unit is correlated to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for World History and the National Standards for History. The unit is made up of 5 sections entitled, "Introduction and Maps," "Slavery in Brazil," "Slavery in Ottoman Egypt," "Slavery in Haiti," and "Slavery in the Swahili Emirates of East Africa."

Download the full unit (2.9 MB - not recommended for users with dialup or slow internet connections)

Or download by sections:

  • Slavery in Brazil (1.3 MB) - African slaves were brought into Brazil as early as 1530, with abolition in 1888. During those three centuries, Brazil received 4,000,000 Africans, over four times as many as any other American destination. Comparatively speaking, Brazil received 40% of the total number of Africans brought to the Americas, while the US received approximately 10%. Due to this huge influx of Africans, today Brazil’s African-descended population is larger than the population of any African country except Nigeria. Learn more about Brazil's history with slavery and how slavery became a burning issue in the late 19th century.
  • Slavery in Ottoman Egypt (1.4 MB) - By the 19th century, slavery was a well-known and well-defined institution in the Egypt, at that time a province of the Ottoman Empire. For most of the 19th century, the slave population of Egypt was between 20,000 and 30,000 out of a total population of five million. The number of slaves in Cairo, a city of a quarter-million people, was estimated to be between 12,000 and 15,000 at any given point until 1877. Yet, slavery in Egypt took on quite a different form than it did in the Americas. Learn more about slavery in an Islamic emirate.
  • Slavery in Haiti (1.5 MB) - Slaves were first introduced to what would become Haiti in 1502. By 1787, there were 450,000 slaves in Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti). 60% of the French slaves in the Americas were in Saint-Domingue and two-thirds of those slaves were African-born. In August 1791, a massive slave rebellion began with a voodoo priest predicting that a revolt would free the slaves of Saint-Domingue. The slaves set about burning plantations and killing all of the whites they encountered, eventually leading to independence on January 1, 1804. Haitian independence marks the first achieved in Latin America and the only successful slave revolt in modern history. Learn more about Haiti's experience with slavery and the only successful slave revole in modern history.
  • Slavery in the Swahili Emirates of East Africa (1.4 MB) - In 1828 Sultan Seyyed Said of Oman moved his court from Muscat in Arabia to the island of Zanzibar (in present day Tanzania) in order to establish a royal monopoly on clove production. Zanzibari society was Swahili and Muslim, which provided a rigid social and legal framework for the slave trade and the practice of slavery locally. Slaves have certain legal rights under Islamic law that their counterparts elsewhere did not enjoy. However, the constrictions of society and demands of the booming Zanzibari economy in the mid-19th century meant that the laws were neither evenly applied nor always followed. Learn more about the practice of slavery in Africa itself, and how the institution managed to perservere into the 20th century.
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