In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Atlantic Slave Trade

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Collected Essays
  • The Atlantic Trade in Comparative Perspective
  • Documentary Sources and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database
  • Volume of the Trade
  • The Demographic Impact of the Slave Trade on America
  • The Demographic Impact of the Trade on Africa
  • African Origins of American Slaves’ Ethnicities
  • National Trades
  • Trading in Specific Periods and Regions
  • Economics of the Trade
  • The Slave Ship
  • Slave Prices in Africa and America
  • The Impact of the Trade on Europe and America
  • Impact of the Trade on Africa
  • Abolition of the Slave Trade

African Studies Atlantic Slave Trade
Herbert S. Klein
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 April 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0167


The Atlantic slave trade remained one of the least studied areas in modern Western historiography until the middle of the twentieth century. This late start was not due to any lack of sources, for the materials available for its study were abundant in both printed and manuscript form from the very beginning. Rather, it was ignored because of its close association with European imperialism and the institution of slavery, which resulted in a lack of interest in a morally difficult problem and to a lack of methodological tools for analyzing the complex quantitative data. Since the 1920s, however, an upsurge of modern studies has made the slave trade one of the most-studied human migrations of the modern period. These studies have resolved the basic questions of age, sex, and volume of this forced migration; the origin and direction of the trade; and its organization and financing. Most recently it has involved long-term studies on its impact on African and American development.

General Overviews

Several works have defined the modern study of the Atlantic slave trade. Gaston-Martin 1993, Curtin 1969, Klein 1978, and Eltis 1987 (cited under Trading in Specific Periods and Regions) can be said to have opened up the modern study of this important human migration. Gaston-Martin 1993 explains the organization of the trade, Curtin 1969 establishes the basic numbers of the trade Klein 1978 carries out the first systematic study of mortality in the trade, and Eltis 1987 (cited under Trading in Specific Periods and Regions) provides the first broad overview of the trade in the nineteenth century. Recently several modern overviews of the trade in all its aspects have replaced the earlier sensationalist literature. These have included Rawley and Behrendt 2005, Pétré-Grenouilleau 1997, Thomas 1999, and Klein 2010.

  • Curtin, Philip. The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969.

    A crucial work on the volume of the trade, this pioneering book by Curtin carefully reviewed all the published estimates and reconstructed the numbers of Africans transported by zone and period based on explicit demographic and economic models. The demographic evolution of the American slave populations was a fundamental concern of Curtin, as was the mortality suffered in the Atlantic crossing, because these were the primary factors that permitted estimates of the numbers of Africans transported. The author also touched on the problems of African population growth and European economic interests in the trade.

  • Gaston-Martin. Nantes au xviiie siècle: L’ère des négriers (1714–1774). Paris: Éditions Karthala, 1993.

    Originally published in 1931, this was the first dispassionate and modern interpretation of the trade. Everything from slave mortality in the Middle Passage to provisioning and financing of the trade were examined in this seminal study of the French slave trade.

  • Klein, Herbert S. The Middle Passage: Comparative Studies in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt1mf6xwn

    Based on new archival evidence in Europe and the Americas, this work provides a systematic analysis of the demography of the trade and detailed studies on mortality in the Middle Passage.

  • Klein, Herbert S. The Atlantic Slave Trade. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511779473

    This is a standard survey of the trade covering all the basic issues discussed by historians and other social scientists. It also includes a detailed bibliographical essay covering all the major economic, demographic, and political aspects of the Atlantic slave trade.

  • Pétré-Grenouilleau, Olivier. La traite des Noirs. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1997.

    DOI: 10.3917/puf.petre.1997.01

    In this general survey, the leading contemporary French authority on the subject gives a very good overall view of the trade based on the latest research.

  • Rawley, James A., and Stephen D. Behrendt. The Transatlantic Slave Trade: A History. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

    This is a useful modern survey of the Atlantic slave trade with a primary emphasis on the English and North American trades.

  • Thomas, Hugh. The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440–1870. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999.

    The most recent of the general popular surveys in English written for the general public. Summarizes much of the new literature and replaces most of the early popular writing on this subject that was not based on systematic research.

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