Interdisciplinary Honors Seminars

Historical Archaeology of Slavery

01:090:295:06 Index# 14330
Professor Carmel Schrire, SAS - Anthropology
W 2:15-5:15P
Biological Sciences Building, Room 206
Douglass Campus


Will Count Towards SAS - Anthropology Major and Minor


The practice of slavery has risen and faded a number of times, and even exists in some regions today. Its most extensive practise took place during the colonial era, in the Age of Mercantile Capitalism in  the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds, between 1450 and 1860,  but its legacy is continues down to the present day.  Colonial era slavery involved the translocation and control of millions of people and its enormity is compared with that of the devastation of the North American Native peoples and the Holocaust. Its vast literature includes anthropology, sociology, biology, demography, religious studies, women’s studies, economics, psychology and medicine.

Historical archaeology - as defined in the US - covers the period 900-1850 AD when  European nations expanded their maritime empires to the New World, Africa and Asia. As such, it includes the 15th-19th centuries when slavery became an essential part of the plantation system on which the wealth of European nations came to depend.

This course focusses on how historical archaeology contributes to the discourse of slavery. Archaeological excavations reveal evidence of how slaves were transshipped from their homelands, and how they lived in their new ones. Their findings help reconstruct the lives and death of slaves, where they lived, what they ate, what they made, and what they believed.  It explores how archaeological finds are integrated with written sources to enrich an understanding of this shameful past. It reveals the material signature of enslaved people, showing how slaves coped with their situation, and how they reinvented themselves, materially and spiritually, in order to survive and flourish in foreign lands. 

CARMEL SCHRIRE earned degrees at the University of Cape Town, Cambridge University and the Australian National University. She has excavated archaeological sites in Australia, New Guinea and South Africa. Her work is widely published, and her books have won acclaim, including the Society for American Archaeology Book Prize (1995).