Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST1611: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery, 1607-1865

Department: History

HIST1611: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery, 1607-1865

Type Open Level 1 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap 110 Location Durham


  • Normally a A or B grade in A-level History, or an acceptable equivalent (e.g. in terms of Scottish Highers or IB)


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • HIST1361 - Enslavement, Exclusion and Assimilation: The Great Racial Dilemma in Nineteenth Century America


  • To introduce students to the political, cultural, and social history of slavery in the American South
  • To introduce students to key developments and themes in early American history


  • This module will trace the history of the American South, from its colonial beginnings on the fringe of the British empire, to its emergence as the most powerful slave society in the world, and finally, to its sudden collapse during the Civil War. America’s prosperity was built on the backs on millions of enslaved black labourers, and its political course was charted by the oligarchs who owned them. Indeed, for over 250 years, slavery inflected numerous aspects of American life, and thus this module will serve as a wide-ranging introduction to early U.S. history. Students will explore a sweeping series of developments: how the imperial logic of slavery fuelled America’s expansion across the continent; how slave-grown products, cotton in particular, helped build the modern capitalist economy; how slaves themselves, in the face of violent coercion, created a rich African American culture and fought back against a system that could never achieve absolute control; and how a new racial order, buttressed by white militant groups like the Ku Klux Klan, emerged from the ashes of the Souths slave regime. In pursuing these and other topics, students will come to understand how the history of the early United States is, inescapably, a history of slavery.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • An understanding of the ways in which race and racism shaped American life, from the colonial era through the Civil War
  • An appreciation of how slaveholders directed the course of a continental empire and the development of American political institutions
  • A familiarity with how historians have written about American slavery and the shifting political considerations that have guided this scholarship
  • A consideration of how the legacies of slavery and the Civil War endure in America's political culture to this day
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Identifying, defining, and understanding historical problems
  • Ability to explore the ways in which historians address historical problems going beyond the simple accumulation of knowledge
  • Ability to identify and to critique conflicting historical interpretations
  • Discussing and explaining ideas in a small-group context
  • Practicing introductory writing and research skills.
Key Skills:
  • The ability to employ sophisticated reading skills to gather, sift, process, synthesise and critically evaluate information from a variety of sources (print, digital, material, aural, visual, audio-visual etc.)
  • The ability to communicate ideas and information orally and in writing, devise and sustain coherent and cogent arguments • The ability to write and think under pressure, manage time and work to deadlines
  • The ability to make effective use of information and communications technology.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Student learning is facilitated by a combination of:
  • Lectures to set the foundations for further study and to provide the basis for the acquisition of subject specific knowledge. Lectures provide a broad framework which defines individual module content, introducing students to themes, debates and interpretations. In this environment, students are given the opportunity to develop skills in listening, selective note-taking and reflection;
  • Seminars to allow students to present and critically reflect upon the acquired subject-specific knowledge, methodologies and theories, and to identify and debate a range of issues and differing opinions. The seminar is the forum in which students are given the opportunity to communicate ideas, jointly exploring themes and arguments. Seminars are structured to develop understanding and designed to maximise student participation related to prior independent preparation. Seminars give students the opportunity to develop oral communication skills, encourage critical and tolerant approaches to reasoned argument and historical discussion, build the students' ability to marshal historical evidence, and facilitate the development of the ability to summarise historical arguments, think in a rapidly changing environment and communicate in a persuasive and articulate manner, whilst recognising the value of working with others and, occasionally, towards shared goals. The seminar will also be the primary forum for developing students’ skills in reading and criticizing primary sources.
  • Assessment:
  • Unseen Examinations test students' ability to work under pressure under timed conditions, to prepare for examinations and direct their own programme of revision and learning, and develop key time management skills. The unseen examination gives students the opportunity to develop relevant life skills such as the ability to produce coherent, reasoned and supported arguments under pressure. Students will be examined on subject specific knowledge;
  • The summative essay remains a central component of assessment in history, due to the integrative high-order skills it develops. It allows students the opportunity to recognise, represent and critically reflect upon ideas, concepts and problems; students can demonstrate awareness of, and the ability to use and evaluate, a diverse range of resources and identify, represent and debate a range of subject-specific issues and opinions. Through the essay, students can synthesise information, adopt critical appraisals and develop reasoned argument based on individual research; they should be able to communicate ideas in writing, with clarity and coherence; and to show the ability to integrate and critically assess material from a wide range of sources.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 21 weekly in terms 1 & 2; revision lecture 1 hour 21
Seminars 7 3 in term 1, 3 in term 2, 1 in term 3 1 hour 7
Preparation and Reading 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Examination Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Two-hour written examination 2 hours 100%
Component: Essay Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 2000 words not including footnotes and bibliography 100%

Formative Assessment:

Written assignment of 1500 words submitted in Michaelmas Term.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University