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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Reference Works
  • Bibliographies and Journals
  • Primary Sources and Databases
  • Historiography
  • The Origins of African Slavery in Brazil
  • The Slave Trade
  • Plantations and Rural Economy
  • Urban Slavery
  • Family and Gender
  • African Identities, Culture, and Religion
  • Slave Resistance
  • Manumission, Freedom, and the Law
  • Politics, Citizenship, and Race
  • Abolitionism and Abolition

Atlantic History Slavery in Brazil
Keila Grinberg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 16 March 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0278


The defining feature of Brazilian history is the large-scale presence of slavery for nearly 350 years, from the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the mid-16th century until abolition in 1888. During this period, close to five million enslaved Africans arrived in Brazil, comprising almost 45 percent of the total number of Africans brought to the Americas as slaves. Slavery has had a profound and lasting influence on Brazilian society, which perhaps explains why generations of historians of Brazil have been so prolific on this subject. Indeed, the study of slavery has been one of the most productive and creative fields of Brazilian and Atlantic historiography, covering an abundance of topics, including escapes, revolts, and the formation of Maroon communities; religion and brotherhoods; living and working conditions; participation in wars; family; the slave trade; law and justice; manumission; material culture; health and disease; the enslavement of indigenous peoples; plantations, domestic economy, and mining; the demography of enslaved people; color and race issues; urban slavery; borders and international relations; daily life of Africans and their descendants; abolitionism and abolition; freed people, citizenship, and post-abolition; and memory, patrimony, and public history. There is also a rich historiography of comparative studies. These themes have been approached from multiple perspectives, including political, economic, and cultural, and as both macro- and microhistory. The result is a dense and sophisticated historiography that continues to develop theoretically and methodologically, and that occupies a central place in the broader literature on the history of Brazil. This bibliographical guide, which includes general works, bibliographies, indexes, primary sources, and historiographical essays, enumerates a range of themes and aims to introduce readers to the breadth of this important topic. It includes recent studies as well as classics that have defined the field, and while most of the works are available in English, the list also includes the most important titles in Portuguese, as these are fundamental texts for those who want to study the subject in any depth. While the bibliography seeks to cover the entire period of slavery in Brazil, most studies are about the 19th century, which reveals a slight imbalance in the literature, primarily because of available sources. Similarly, the list seeks to account for the greatest possible regional variety, but there is an imbalance here as well, since so many studies on slavery focus on the southeastern region (Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Minas) and Bahia.

General Overviews and Reference Works

The foundational text about slavery in Brazil, The Masters and the Slaves, was written by Gilberto Freyre in 1933, and published in English in the 1940s; it is cited here as Freyre 1986. A seminal work of Brazilian social thought, it has influenced generations of scholars. Even though a number of important studies were subsequently published (see Historiography), Degler 1986 and Mattoso 1986 are particular noteworthy. Degler provides the first massive historical comparison of Brazil and the United States, highlighting the differences between them, while Mattoso offers the first overview from the perspective of the enslaved persons. For an initial introduction to the field, Klein and Luna 2010 surveys African slavery in Brazil from its origins through abolition, focusing particularly on the economy and society. Andrews 2004 and Bergad 2007 emphasize the later years, from the 18th century on, and they both situate Brazil within a broader context: Andrews within Afro-Latin America, and Bergad within the plantation-based slave societies of Cuba and the United States. Finally, Schwartz 1985 is a classic in the field, analyzing the rise and fall of slavery and the plantation system in the state of Bahia. Focused on this one region, Schwartz’s study is based on extraordinary archival research and addresses the many topics that are vital to the field.

  • Andrews, George Reid. Afro-Latin America, 1800–2000. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    Excellent work on the history of the African diaspora in Latin America since the late 18th century, placing Brazil within the context of its neighbors. Chapters 1 through 4 focus particularly on slavery and abolition.

  • Bergad, Laird W. The Comparative Histories of Slavery in Brazil, Cuba, and the United States. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511803970

    Very good comparative work on society and the economy of the three most important slave societies in the Americas—Brazil, the United States, and Cuba—focusing especially on the 18th and 19th centuries.

  • Degler, Carl. Neither Black nor White: Slavery and Race Relations in Brazil and the United States. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986.

    Originally published in 1971, this is the first social history that compares slavery and race relations in Brazil and the United States. It is also important for the ways Degler looks at demography, economy, and cultural aspects of slavery while highlighting the differences between the two countries.

  • Freyre, Gilberto. The Masters and the Slaves: A Study in the Development of Brazilian Civilization. 2d ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

    First published in 1933, Freyre’s masterpiece is one of the founding books of Brazilian social thought. The book remains a classic, and is a must-read for anyone interested in Brazilian history as a whole. As the first to focus on the patriarchal plantation complex, Freyre was praised as much as criticized, especially for portraying a slave society where paternalist relations were the norm.

  • Klein, Herbert S., and Francisco Vidal Luna. Slavery in Brazil. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    A broad overview of the economic and social history of slavery in Brazil, with a very good bibliography. Perfect for beginners in the field.

  • Mattoso, Kátia M. de Queirós. To Be a Slave in Brazil, 1550–1888. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1986.

    First published in 1979, Mattoso’s was the first synthesis on the social history of Brazilian slavery based on documents such as manumission letters and wills. Even though some of her conclusions are being taken into question by recent studies, her analysis remains important.

  • Schwartz, Stuart B. Sugar Plantations in the Formation of Brazilian Society: Bahia 1550–1835. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

    This encyclopedic overview of Brazilian slavery is a major social history that covers nearly three centuries. Focusing on Bahia, Schwartz analyzes the rise of the plantation society and addresses specific themes such as manumission and resistance. Since its publication, Schwartz’s book has had a major influence on a generation of historians of slavery in the Americas. Indispensable for graduate students working in this field.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.