Summary Objective 1

Students will recognize that slavery existed around the world prior to the European invasion of North America, changing forms depending on time and place. The enslaved often were perceived as outsiders: captives in war, the vanquished or colonized, or ethnic or religious others. Maps to Key Concept 1


What else should my students know? 

1.A Slavery is the holding of people through force, fraud or coercion for purposes of sexual exploitation or forced labor so that the enslaver can extract profit. (Definition adapted from Free the Slaves.)

1.B While people have enslaved others in many ways in different times and places, unfree labor is not always slavery. For example, chattel slavery is an intergenerational system of slavery where individuals are held as property and traded as commodities. Indentured servants are not enslaved. They sell their labor for a certain number of years to pay a debt. 

1.C Europeans enslaved people long before colonization. Slavery was widespread in the Roman Empire and later justified on the basis of religion during the Crusades. Until the 1450s, European sugar planters in the Mediterranean imported enslaved laborers from parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

1.D Slavery was common in Africa and the Americas before European invasion. Arab traders enslaved and sold millions of Africans beginning in the eighth century. Enslavement was common in the Mayan empire. When Europeans arrived, most enslaved people in Africa and the Americas were war captives. Once taken, their lives differed. In some societies, slavery could be socially alienating, with enslaved people considered as labor, prestige goods or expendable. In other societies, enslaved people could integrate into kinship networks and even become people of power and influence. In North America, as in Africa, European intervention greatly expanded slavery in scale, scope and consequence. 


How can I teach this?

  • The BBC program Story of Africa and its accompanying website allow users to search for information about slavery and the slave trade in Africa.
  • Paul T. Conrad’s chapter “Why You Can’t Teach the History of U.S. Slavery without American Indians” in the edited volume Why You Can’t Teach the History of U.S. Slavery Without American Indians offers teaching suggestions for how to engage the histories of, for example, Chaco Canyon, Cabeza de Vaca and the early trade of enslaved Indigenous people in the Carolinas. These lessons help students think about what slavery is, how it existed in North America before the arrival of Europeans and how European involvement changed the practice on the continent.


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