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

  • Introduction
  • Key Journals
  • Primary Source Collections

Atlantic History Slavery and the Family
David Stefan Doddington
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0332


From the earliest historical studies on Atlantic slavery to the present day, historians have been interested in the development of family ties among enslaved people. They have debated, denied, questioned, and celebrated the ability of enslaved people to forge meaningful family relationships and kinship networks in the face of the traumas and violence of slavery. Arguments over the legacies of slavery and the actions of enslavers and enslaved alike in the context of family life have extended beyond the academic world; histories of the slave family have been used and abused in political debates, addressed and expressed in popular culture, and connected to contemporary concerns relating to social structures, racial politics, and gender dynamics across the Americas. In broad terms, scholarship on the slave family has moved beyond a focus on rigid consanguineal links or a biologically based model, as well as challenged Eurocentric perceptions as to the normality of nuclear or patriarchal structures in family life. Instead, historians have revealed the diverse forms of kinship and family relations found across and within the Atlantic world, noting connections, adaptations, and retentions among the various actors present in the slaving zones of the Atlantic world. Historians have done tremendous work in connecting the destruction and reconstruction of familial units in slavery to wider themes relating to resistance, trauma, and survival in the face of oppression. Pioneering work on enslaved women, and attention to the reproductive and productive exploitation women faced, has likewise revealed the centrality of sex, gender, and the family to the strategies of domination employed by enslavers in the Americas. These scholars also revealed how family life could provide a measure of respite, act as a site of pleasure, and serve as the foundation of a culture of resistance for enslaved people. Debates on the slave family thus provide insight into the most personal and intimate areas of enslaved people’s lives and reveal the complex power dynamics, negotiations, contest, and resistance between enslavers and enslaved people in the Atlantic world. In the rest of this piece I outline key texts relating to the slave family, focusing on scholarly monographs and structured roughly by geography. Scholarly articles have not been referenced, outside of one or two significant pieces, but readers should make use of the specific journals cited to explore the topic of the slave family. Select online databases and banks of primary source material are also listed.

Key Journals

Slavery & Abolition and Journal of Global Slavery are the only journals dedicated specifically to world slavery across regions and covering antiquity to modern day. Slavery & Abolition, in particular, has published a number of influential articles relating to the slave family, as well as special editions dedicated to family, gender, and sex. Leading journals in North American, Caribbean, and Atlantic History (William & Mary Quarterly; French Colonial History; Journal of Caribbean History) have articles addressing slavery, family, and gendered norms and structures in periods of slavery, while journals focused on gender and women’s history (Journal of Women’s History; Gender & History) have also published articles exploring family life in slaving zones.

  • French Colonial History.

    Leading journal in the field of French colonial history, including essays and articles addressing the French Caribbean and Atlantic world.

  • Gender & History.

    Important journal relating to the study of gender, femininity, and masculinity. Has some articles relating to slavery and useful for providing theoretical perspectives on family and gender relations.

  • Hispanic American Historical Review.

    Pioneering journal for study of Latin American history and has published number of articles and special editions relating to slavery in Latin America.

  • Journal of African History.

    Leading journal in the field of African history, with wide-ranging geographic and temporal focus. Influential articles in slavery, colonialism, and gender can be found here.

  • Journal of Caribbean History.

    Important journal for Caribbean history, includes essays on slavery, colonialism, and emancipation.

  • Journal of Family History.

    Leading international journal focused on the history of the family. Not specifically focused on slavery but has published essays on enslaved family life, demographic patterns, and resistance in slave societies across the Atlantic world.

  • Journal of Global Slavery.

    Journal focused on global slavery; addresses historiographical and theoretical issues alongside social and cultural histories of slavery. Has published work relating to the slave family, demography, and resistance.

  • Journal of Women’s History.

    First journal devoted to the international field of women’s history. While not explicitly focused on slavery, has published a number of articles and special editions exploring gender in slave zones and in periods of slavery.

  • Slavery & Abolition.

    Leading journal of slavery and slave studies and has published many influential articles and special editions relating to the slave family, gender, and sexual exploitation. Required reading.

  • William & Mary Quarterly.

    Leading journal of early American history and culture. Strong emphasis on North America in earlier editions but increasingly focused on the wider Atlantic world. Has published number of influential articles and pieces related to slavery and slave life.

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