About the Author

Adam Rothman, Associate Professor of History at Georgetown University, teaches the history of the Atlantic world, slavery, and Jeffersonian America.


Primary Sources

Handler, Jerome S., and Tuite, Michael L. Jr. The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record. This website presents a large collection of images and illustrations of the slave trade and slavery in Africa and the Americas from the 16th through the 19th centuries. The gallery is divided into useful categories, like work and resistance and it can be searched by keyword. Unlike many websites, Handler and Tuite's gallery includes a brief explanation and a full citation for the source of each image. Keep in mind that images and illustrations can and should be read in much the same way as textual documents—with an eye for detail, perspective, and what's in the background. A review of the website can be found within Teachinghistory.org.

Library of Congress. Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938. This website contains the searchable text of thousands of interviews conducted with former slaves in the 1930s. The interviews are a rich source of oral history but must be read with care, since 70 years had passed since emancipation, and also because the men and women being interviewed might not have wanted to tell the whole story to the white men and women who interviewed them. Though historians have most often used these interviews to understand slavery from the perspective of those who lived through it, they are also a rich source for understanding black Southerners' memories of the Civil War and emancipation, and the joys and sorrows of freedom. A review of the website can be found within Teachinghistory.org.

Library of Congress. Slaves and the Courts, 1740-1860. An extensive collection put together by the Library of Congress, this website presents legal records relating to slavery in the United States before the Civil War. The dual character of slaves as people and property appears vividly in the law. Court records are among the richest sources of information about slavery, and they often document the struggle of individual slaves to achieve their freedom. For instance, this website includes material relating to the Amistad and Dred Scott cases, two famous but very different examples of enslaved people struggling to achieve their freedom. A review of the website can be found within Teachinghistory.org.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. In Motion: The African American Migration Experience. Produced by the Schomburg Center of the New York Public Library, this website includes terrific short essays, maps, documents, and visual sources relating to the theme of migration and movement in African American history. While the forced migrations of the 18th and 19th centuries were integral to the history of American slavery, the great migrations of the late 19th and 20th centuries are equally integral to the story of African American freedom. This website offers a wealth of valuable information on the Atlantic and domestic slave trades, migration between North America and the Caribbean, the movements of runaway slaves to the northern states and Canada, and emigration to Liberia. A review of the website can be found within Teachinghistory.org.

Berlin, Ira, et al., eds. Free at Last: a Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War. New York: New Press, 1992. This pathbreaking collection of primary sources reveals the complex and wrenching history of the demise of slavery during the Civil War, seen through the eyes of Union and Confederate officials and soldiers as well as slaves and their families.

Blassingame, John, ed. Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, Interviews, and Autobiographies. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1977. This collection of primary sources concentrates on documents written from the perspective of slaves and former slaves, including many active in the abolitionist movement.

Rose, Willie Lee, Ed. A Documentary History of Slavery in North America. Athens: University of Georgia, 1999. A useful collection of well-chosen primary documents ranging over the history of slavery in North America from the early 17th century through the 1850s.