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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Law : Law

Undergraduate Course: Slavery in Eighteenth-Century Scotland (LAWS10185)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Law CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe course will examine the social and legal position of men and women, often of African or Indian origin, who were held enslaved in eighteenth-century Scotland. After consideration of the nature of slavery and other forms of coerced labour, it will explore the economic, imperial and social backgrounds, reflecting on Scottish participation in the British Empire. Comparisons will be drawn with other societies in which human beings are enslaved. The lives of enslaved individuals will be explored, as will those of those who claimed them as property. The legal ambiguities will be reflected on and examined. Students will acquire a knowledge of: the issues surrounding slavery; of the lives of enslaved individuals in Georgian Scotland; of the legal problems surrounding slavery; and of Scottish reactions to slavery, including the start of the abolitionist movement.
Course description The course will be taught over ten two-hour seminars.

Indicative content will be as follows:

1. What is slavery? How do we define it? How does slavery relate to other forms of coerced labour?
2. Brief consideration of slavery in history. Ancient slavery; medieval slavery. Slavery in other parts of the world.
3. The rise of slavery and European Empires, including English Empire. Scots imperial ambitions in the seventeenth century. Scots in the British Empire.
4. Africans and Indians in Scotland: the evidence; their origin; their roles.
5. Scots law and coerced labour ¿ vagabond legislation etc. The law of servants and their changing social positions.
6. Scots law and questions of freedom: older cases, statutes and doctrinal writing. Comparisons with other European countries.
7. How individuals are effectively held as enslaved, and the mechanisms involved.
8. How the Scottish courts treat individuals held as slaves.
9. The freedom cases: how the law was discussed and used.
10. The aftermath
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Spaces on this course are allocated as part of the Law Honours Course Allocation process. Places are generally only available to students who must take Law courses. To request a space on this course, please email
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2021/22, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  32
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) There will be no formal exam and the course will be assessed by 2 essays, one due in the middle of the course (30%), the other at the end of the course (70 %). Essay 1 will be 2.500 words maximum, essay 2 will be 3.500 words maximum. Both are summative.
Feedback The first essay will be formative as well as summative. Feedback will be provided to the students after the first essay, which has a much lighter weighting in overall assessment, but also with an element of feed-forward to assist in preparation of the second.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate a comparative knowledge of the position of individuals of African and Indian origin in Scotland; and have acquired knowledge of the relevant law in Scotland and elsewhere.
  2. Have developed the ability to research and write about historical legal source and secondary material in a thoughtful and critical way.
  3. Consolidate and develop writing skills through the essays.
  4. Consolidate the ability to reflect and to consider historical and legal material and be able to demonstrate critical reasoning skills.
  5. Have developed an awareness of the intersection of legal and ethical issues that affect the subject area.
Reading List
Jean Allain (ed.), Legal Understanding of Slavery: From the Historical to the Contemporary (OUP, 2012) (also electronic)
John W. Cairns, Suffering the Sight of Slaves: Slavery and law in Eighteenth-Century Scotland (forthcoming: if publication not complete, proofs will be made available to students)
Ian R. Whyte, Scotland and the Abolition of Black Slavery, 1756-1838 (2006) (also electronic)
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsSlavery,Eighteenth-Century Scotland,Legal History
Course organiserProf John Cairns
Tel: (0131 6)50 2065
Course secretaryMs Tracy Noden
Tel: (0131 6)50 2053
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