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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of History, Classics and Archaeology : History

Undergraduate Course: Slavery in the Early Middle Ages (HIST10474)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology 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
SummaryBy c.1100 slavery, which had once been a fundamental structure of the Roman empire, had been displaced across much of Europe by a distinct subjugated status known as serfdom - for reasons much debated by historians. Yet simultaneously other forms of slavery evolved and diversified, including human trafficking along trade routes connecting Christian, 'pagan' and Islamic societies. This course makes sense of these parallel trajectories and explores critical issues, including questions of gender and ethnicity, in the history of slavery c.400-1100.
Course description We might assume that ending slavery takes revolution from below or legislation from above. But the end of Roman slavery unfolded much more ambiguously. The story goes that the centuries following the disintegration of the western Roman empire by c.500 witnessed a fundamental transition. The legal, material and social subjugation of men and women under Roman slavery was displaced by a lesser form of subjugation known as serfdom. Historians have vigorously debated the precise chronology and fundamental reasons behind the transition from slavery to serfdom, not least because they have disagreed over how to differentiate slavery from other form of unfreedom. Slavery in the Early Middle Ages explores why historians continue to debate the demise of slavery and why their debates matter for understanding social, political and economic change between c.400 and 1100.

Yet, as some historians have recently argued, rumours of the demise of slavery have been greatly exaggerated. These same centuries witnessed multifarious forms of slavery persist, evolve and diversify, from variants of domestic slavery to human traffickingalong trade routes connecting western Europe, Scandinavia and the Middle East. Slavery in the Early Middle Ages examines these other tracks in the history of slavery running parallel to the transition from slavery to serfdom and explores how far the big picture of slavery and serfdom looks different if we think more carefully about distinct experiences of servile women and children. We will also scrutinise how different ways of conceptualising slavery -as a form of legal subjection, as a mode of production and/or as a form of 'social death' - affect how we understand the existence, evolution and demise of slavery in past and present societies.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements A pass or passes in 40 credits of first level historical courses or equivalent and a pass or passes in 40 credits of second level historical courses or equivalent.

Students should only be enrolled on this course with approval from the History Honours Programme Administrator.
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 3 History courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses. Applicants should note that, as with other popular courses, meeting the minimum does NOT guarantee admission.

** as numbers are limited, visiting students should contact the Visiting Student Office directly for admission to this course **
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. engage with critical debates in the study of slavery and human trafficking in past and present societies
  2. differentiate distinct ways of conceptualising slavery and deploy these concepts to evaluate the existence, evolution and ending of slavery in different historical societies
  3. compare and assess pertinent commonalities and differences between historical societies
  4. interrogate, analyse and reflect critically and contextually upon primary sources
  5. appreciate the complexity of reconstructing the past and the problematic and varied nature of historical evidence
Reading List
Kecia Ali, Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010)
Kyle Harper, Slavery in the Late Roman World, AD 275-425 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011)
Ruth M. Karras, Slavery and Society in Medieval Scandinavia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993)
Michael McCormick, The Origins of the European Economy: Communications and Commerce, A.D. 300-900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)
Sally McKee, 'Slavery', in The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe, ed. Judith M. Bennett and Ruth M. Karras (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 281-94
Christopher Paolella, Human Trafficking in Medieval Europe: Slavery, Sexual Exploitation and Prostitution (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2020)
David A.E. Pelteret, Slavery in Early Mediaeval England: From the Reign of Alfred until the Twelfth Century (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1995)
Alice Rio, Slavery After Rome, 500-1100 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017)
Youval Rotman, Byzantine Slavery and the Mediterranean World (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2009)
Susan M. Stuard, 'Ancillary evidence for the decline of medieval slavery', Past & Present 149 (1995), 3-28
Chris Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)
David Wyatt, Slaves and Warriors in Medieval Britain and Ireland, 800-1200 (Leiden: Brill, 2009)
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Zubin Mistry
Course secretaryMiss Claire Brown
Tel: (0131 6)50 3582
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