Studying Slavery

This page contains various research links, as well as some embedded multi-media tools, all designed to help introduce teachers and students to the subject of American slavery and its legacy.  Over the years, we have created many of these resources here at Dickinson College.  Yet if you have additional or new sources to recommend, please feel free to contact us at

Dickinson course sites

Two recent undergraduate courses at Dickinson concerning slavery or its legacy have maintained open online sites. For other slavery-related course offerings and programs at Dickinson, see Africana Studies, American StudiesClarke Forum, English, History, Political Science, Popel Shaw Center, Sociology, and Women’s and Gender Studies.


Colleges & Universities Studying Slavery

There are simply far too many web resources on the subject of slavery and academia to include here in their entirety, but this section highlights a range of introductory articles or projects that can help demonstrate some emerging trends and best practices.

General Reading

Again, the literature on slavery is vast, far too vast to summarize here in any kind of effective fashion.  However, this section features some of the best recent scholarship, including several readable books for the modern classroom that have also been enhanced with multi-media teaching tools (such as custom-made Google maps) from the House Divided Project.

  • David Brion Davis, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (2006) with map
  • Eric Foner, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad (2015)
  • Peter Kolchin, American Slavery, 1619-1877 (2003 ed.)
  • Louis P. Masur, The Civil War: A Concise History (2011) with map
  • James Oakes, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865  (2012) with teacher’s guide
  • Manisha Sinha, The Slaves’ Cause: A History of Abolition (2016)

Research Tutorials

For the last several years, history students in Prof. Pinsker’s classes have been maintaining online research journals to help document their progress (and occasional struggles) in various archives.  Students in Prof. Johnson’s Africana Studies class have also documented some of their efforts in local history and civic engagement with narrative blog posts. Here are some recent examples of student research journals on slavery and slavery-related topics that might help show others working in this subject how to research in practical terms.

Slavery in Pennsylvania:  Overview

Dutch and Swedish settlers began importing African slaves to the region which eventually became Pennsylvania by the middle of the seventeenth century, even before William Penn and the Quakers established their proprietary colony for the British crown during the 1680s.  Although the Society of Friends (Quakers) later renounced slavery as immoral, there were a number of prominent Quaker slaveholders in Pennsylvania  throughout the eighteenth century.  After independence (and following the separation from Delaware, a reasonably significant slaveholding area in the North), the new state of Pennsylvania adopted a gradual abolition act in 1780 (and amended in 1788) establishing a slow process that eventually led to the effective eradication of enslavement by the early nineteenth century.  There were about six thousand enslaved people in Pennsylvania in 1780.  Ten years later, the first U.S. census reported fewer than four thousand slaves remaining in the commonwealth.  That number dipped into the hundreds during the early years of the nineteenth century before eventually disappearing from official records altogether.  Record-keeping was uneven, however, and the realities of defining servitude could be complicated.   Scholars thus disagree over how to determine the exact figures of enslavement and the final termination date of slavery in the state.

Slavery in Pennsylvania: Major Laws & Cases

Slavery in Pennsylvania:  County Slave Records

Slavery in Pennsylvania: The Anti-Slavery Movement

House Divided Research Engine

Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad was a metaphor first used by antislavery activists in the 1840s to describe the increasingly organized and aggressive effort to help American slaves escape from bondage.  The fight over fugitive slaves then became one of the primary causes of the Civil War.  At the House Divided Project, we have been building a number of multi-resources devoted to help with the teaching of this often-misunderstood subject.

Fugitive Case Compilations 

Featured Slave Narratives (DocSouth) with Summaries and Maps

Vigilance Records and Fugitive Journals

Wartime Emancipation: Overview

The Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863) was a pivotal document but really only one element in a dramatic and relentless struggle to abolish slavery that involved decisive actions from numerous figures, beginning with the enslaved themselves.  At the House Divided Project, we have tried to translate scholarly insights about this complicated process into multi-media materials that can work well in the modern-day classroom.

Wartime Emancipation:  Primary Sources

Wartime Emancipation:  Most Teachable External Web Sites

Wartime Emancipation:  “Lincoln” movie teacher’s guide

Reconstruction and Slavery’s Legacy

The 150th anniversary of Reconstruction (1865-77) has not mobilized the same type of national response as the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, but classroom teachers across the country are trying to deepen understanding of the period that historian Eric Foner has labeled as “America’s Unfinished Revolution.”  At House Divided, we are committed to developing a series of multi-media resources that can help teachers and students in these critical efforts.

Carlisle and the Jim Crow North