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Unit information: Rebels, Runaways, and Revolts: Agency, Resistance, and Slavery in the United States in 2021/22

Unit name Rebels, Runaways, and Revolts: Agency, Resistance, and Slavery in the United States
Unit code HIST20129
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Wallace
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Slavery in the United States was a system of racial oppression that was designed to brutalise, dehumanise, and exploit generations of enslaved persons of African descent. More than 12 million Africans were forced across the Atlantic and into the Americas, with an estimated five percent enslaved in Mainland North America. The enslaved population increased rapidly: from 700,00 in 1790 to nearly 4 million in 1860. This unit examines the agency of enslaved persons in the United States from the early Republic throughout the antebellum and Civil War years, to the legal abolition of slavery in the United States. How did enslaved men and women respond to conditions within slavery, and to the cultural, economic, political, and social impact of the system – how did they compromise, disarm, and untangle notions of white supremacy, slavery, and the laws upholding both? Who were the enslaved fugitives and runaways advertised in American newspapers, and who were the women and men labelled rebels and revolutionaries by enslavers? How did outward expressions of Black agency and self-actualization challenge the socio-political and racial ordering of slave societies and white racialised notions of their body and personhood? This unit explores how the agency of enslaved persons communicated discontentment and resisted and challenged the structures of US slavery.

This unit therefore aims to:

  • Give students a solid understanding of important themes relating to the history of US and transatlantic slavery.
  • Give students a broad awareness of the historiographical developments that have shaped this field.
  • Introduce students to an array of pertinent sources, and develop their abilities to analyse them.
  • Further develop students’ abilities to express their ideas orally and in writing.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

1. Identify and analyse key themes in US History and US slavery.

2. Understand and use historical methods specific to the study of US and transatlantic slavery.

3. Discuss and evaluate the historiographical debates that surround the topic.

4. Understand and interpret primary sources and select pertinent evidence in order to illustrate specific and more general historical points.

5. Present their research and judgements in written forms and styles appropriate to the discipline and to level I.

Teaching details

Classes will involve a combination of long- and short-form lectures, class discussion, investigative activities, and practical activities. Students will be expected to engage with readings and participate on a weekly basis. This will be further supported with drop-in sessions and self-directed exercises with tutor and peer feedback. 

Assessment Details

Summative Assessments:

1 x 3500-word Essay (50%) [ILOs 1-5]

1 x Timed Assessment (50%) [ILOs 1-5] 


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. HIST20129).