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Slavery, slaveries, enslavement : the Western experience


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7 
  • Convenor: to be confirmed
  • Assessment: a 4000-word essay (100%)

Module description

The module approaches the topic of slavery not through the idea of an imaginary unique slavery that would accompany human history all along, but rather through the study of a plurality of historically documented cases, at different moments of European history.

The title Slavery, slaveries, enslavements is meant to identify the line of ever-changing forms and justifications of real existing slavery that constitute the general and compassing back-drop of the social fabric of the long-term history of Europe understood as a form or way of social and political life.

This module proceeds in three parts: slavery and its abolition, an issue of law and largely US legal and political history; slaveries, a series of examples chosen from the large number of other instances of slavery (instances more remote in time, and mostly European, albeit the phenomenon of slavery has obviously never been limited to either Europe or the West); enslavement, as a conceptual approach to a specific type of social relations.

Indicative module content

  • Introduction: slavery and slavery terminology in social and legal studies: an age-old topic and the twenty-first century 
  • Enslavement, slaveries, slavery and their approaches: political, historical, legal 
  • The paradigm of US-plantation slavery: the lasting trauma; the metamorphoses of abolitionism 
  • The Christian and post-Christian tradition: slavery and human rights in the West 
  • Pre-modern slaveries outside and inside Western history 
  • Christian dilemmas and politico-theological controversies on legitimate slavery 
  • Aristotle (384-322), his theory of slavery, its reception history and consequences 
  • Slave labour in Antiquity: 'words' and 'facts' in the Roman Republic 
  • Slave labour, Roman jurists, and the birth of labour law 
  • Discreet slaveries and unnamed enslavements: a comparative overview

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • understand and appraise the importance of the abolition of slavery (for global Western modernity and its legitimacy)
  • detect the forces and powers effectively at work in the long history of the successful outlawing of slavery
  • grasp the diversity of social phenomena amalgamated for the sake of making the modern anti-slavery campaign possible
  • distinguish between legitimacy-providing critical-legal interests and understanding-providing historical interests in slavery
  • appraise the stakes involved in the understanding of the topic of slavery under current conditions.