In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Slavery and Gender

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works and Bibliographies
  • Primary Sources
  • Journals
  • Africa
  • Mainland North America
  • The Caribbean
  • Mainland Spanish America
  • Brazil

Atlantic History Slavery and Gender
Mieko Nishida
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 March 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0083


Slavery and gender is a relatively new topic in Atlantic history. Studies of slavery and gender developed somewhat independently from each other until the 1990s. In the emergence of “new social history” in the 1960s with its “bottom-up” approach, historically marginalized groups of people—such as women, slaves, workers, immigrants, and minorities—finally became a legitimate subject of study. Accordingly, studies on slave life, family, community, and culture began to emerge. At the same time, women’s history began to examine the historical importance of womanhood and women’s collective means of social and political empowerment. In such studies, slaves and women came to be depicted respectively as not passive but active participants in history making and agents of social changes despite the “peculiar institution” and/or the odds of patriarchy and sexism in the male-dominant society. In the 1980s, US feminist historians’ major works on slave and elite women during the slavery regime also began to appear. After the publication of Scott 1986 (cited under Reference Works and Bibliographies), “gender” began to replace “women” in the historical vocabulary. This was a reflection of the new paradigm shift in the history profession, as historians began to examine relatedness between opposing “groups” and/or contrasting categories under such terms as gender, race, class, and ethnicity rather than focusing on one group or category of people (such as women or slaves) who have been victimized, oppressed, and/or marginalized in history. Unfortunately, however, some scholars simply used the term “gender” interchangeably with “woman” and/or “sex.” In the late 1980s, and throughout the 1990s, many monographs and anthologies were published on women and slavery. Yet, since the mid-1990s, in accordance of the gradual establishment of “gender history,” scholarly attempts have been made to write gender into the history of slavery and to examine the “gendered” dimension of slavery and emancipation in the Atlantic world, especially in the form of journal articles and book chapters. It is expected that many more scholarly monographs on the Atlantic world will appear in the near future, with a primary focus on slavery and gender. This article includes important works on Atlantic slavery, which deals with women and/or gender. Readers should be aware that “gender” takes on many meanings in the field of slavery.

General Overviews

David Barry Gasper and Darlene Clark Hine have coedited two informative anthologies on slavery and women in the Atlantic world (Gasper and Hine 1996, Gasper and Hine 2004). Terborg-Penn, et al. 1987 may be helpful in understanding women in Africa and the African diaspora. More recently a varied selection of papers presented at an international conference organized by Gwyn Campbell has been published as a two-volume anthology on women and world slavery (Campbell, et al. 2007). Scully and Patton 2005, an edited volume on gender and emancipation in the Atlantic world, is very helpful in understanding how historians have approached gender in their studies of slave emancipation. Eltis and Engerman 2011 offers important information on Atlantic slavery, including its gendered dimensions. In addition, there have been excellent quantitative studies on the demography of enslaved peoples, in relation to sex ratios, fertility, mortality, sexual division of labor, and gender relations in Latin American and Caribbean slavery (Klein 2010, Klein and Vinson 2007). Such quantitative studies have also touched on slave marriage, family, kinship, and community.

  • Campbell, Gwyn, Suzanne Miers, and Joseph C. Miller, eds. Women and Slavery. 2 vols. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2007.

    This is a two-volume anthology on enslaved women in Africa, Asia, and Europe. While the first volume is focused on Africa, the Indian Ocean world, and the medieval North Atlantic, the second one covers the modern Atlantic world. It concludes with two historiographical essays: Claire Robertson and Marsha Robinson, “Re-modeling Slavery as if Women Mattered”; and Joseph C. Miller, “Domiciled, and Dominated: Slaving as a History of Women.”

  • Eltis, David, and Stanley L. Engerman, eds. The Cambridge World History of Slavery. Vol. 3, AD 1420–AD 1804. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521840682

    Collection of essays exploring important aspects of slavery in Africa, Asia, and the Americas from the opening of the Atlantic world to the independence of Haiti. Touches on gender, slave resistance, demography, law, and the economics of slavery.

  • Gasper, David Barry, and Darlene Clark Hine, eds. More than Chattel: Black Women and Slavery in the Americas. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.

    Anthology of fifteen well-researched scholarly essays on slave women, starting with the chapter by the Africanist Clair Robertson: “Africa into the Americas? Slavery and Women, the Family, and the Gender Division of Labor.” Others are focused on enslaved and free women of African descent in Brazil, mainland British America, and the French and British Caribbean.

  • Gasper, David Barry, and Darlene Clark Hine, eds. Beyond Bondage: Free Women of Color in the Americas. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

    Collection of fourteen essays centering on maroon, freed, and free-born women of African descent in the Spanish and French Caribbean, Jamaica, the US South, Suriname, Puerto Rico, and Brazil.

  • Klein, Herbert S. The Atlantic Slave Trade. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    Quantitative analyses of the transatlantic slave trade, with reference to sex ratios and gender in relation to labor organization both in indigenous African slave systems and in New World plantation slavery. Useful undergraduate textbook on Atlantic slavery.

  • Klein, Herbert S., and Ben Vinson. African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    Useful textbook with an updated bibliography for undergraduate courses dealing with Atlantic slavery, with a good overview of African slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean from the 16th century until abolition. Provides the reader with basic knowledge on gender and family kinship in Latin American slavery.

  • Scully, Pamela, and Diana Paton, eds. Gender and Slave Emancipation in the Atlantic World. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.

    Comprises fourteen historical essays with a gendered approach to slave emancipation in the 19th-century Atlantic world, including Paton’s “Bibliographical Essay,” which is an excellent historiography of slavery, abolition, emancipation, in relation to women and gender in the Atlantic world.

  • Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn, Sharon Hurley, and Andrea Benton Rushing, eds. Women in Africa and the African Diaspora. Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1987.

    Collection of essays that examine women in Africa and the African diaspora.

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