This page was constructed by students enrolled in History 150/African American Studies 132: Comparative Slave Rebellions at the University of California, Irvine. Jessica Christian, a doctoral student in the Department of History and teaching assistant for the class, helped prepare student essays for public view. We are all very grateful for her efforts.
During this ten week course students engaged the themes of slave resistance, agency, and revolution during key “slave rebellions” in the Afro-Atlantic World. They classic and more recent scholarship on the subject. Of particular importance was the relationship between individual vs. community resistance, and forms of resistance available to slaves based upon their locale, gender and status in the community. Students interrogated how one’s gender contributed to particular forms of resistance. Slave men and women experience slavery differently and students considered how the chronically of subtle forms of resistance and outright revolt was distinctly gendered. Finally, students worked to isolate criteria involved in making a “successful” slave rebellion. Often students found that their formula for “success,” did not match the reality of enslaved life. For example, despite varied labor regimes, enslaved Africans throughout the Atlantic world basin developed similar survival mechanisms. Strategies included developing families, communities as well as distinct forms of spiritual worship. Thus the themes of resistance, rebellion and revolution characterized the lives of enslaved Africans in the New World though to differing degrees and often produced differing results. The actions of the enslaved spoke to themes which are echoed throughout the Diaspora.
Students began the quarter with readings centered on the slave dungeons in present day Ghana and followed captive Africans as they revolted on the ships destined for the New World. They learned and wrote about how enslaved and free blacks shaped the American Revolution and succeeded in establishing the nation of Haiti. The American Revolution is considered to be the first “major” slave rebellion in what becomes the United States but it did not end slavery in what became the United States. Rather, the country struggled to maintain slavery despite David Walker’s call for rebellion by enslaved people and Nat Turner’s uprising in Virginia. The Haitian Revolution, in contrast, is heralded as the first successful slave rebellion because the separate nation of Haiti was established. To show that these incidents were not isolated nor exceptional but part of a larger tradition, students also learned about uprisings in St. Vincent, the Carolinas, Canada, and Cuba.
As their web pages indicate, there are a diversity of opinions and sympathies in this class. Nonetheless, students worked together to honor those who fought for their own emancipation and often gave their lives in the process.
Bob Marley’s, “Redemption Song,” and Arrested Development’s, “Revolution,” served as the backdrop to class interactions. Both songs represent themes present in the course discussions, readings and student papers: Pan-African unity, Diasporic notions of freedom, and human repair. The student web pages represent their response to Marley’s call to “sing this song of freedom.” As an instructor, it was exciting to see student views develop, shift, or become even more embolden with theory.
In the words of Arrested Development students of this generation are, “still fired up and still talking about Revolution!!!”