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Deep Rivers: the great migrations in African-American History


Admission requirements

Bachelor’s degree.

This course is intended for students from a limited number of programmes. Because of the limited capacity available for each programme, all students who will enroll are placed on a waiting list. Students in the MA program in North American Studies (NAS)--and if their places are filled, those in Literary Studies--will have priority. The definite admission (by August 25) will be made according to the position on the waiting list and the number of students from each programme. In total there is room for a maximum of 24 students in the seminar.


From the transatlantic slave trade to the recent influx of African and Afro-Caribbean immigrants, the cultures and communities of black America have been continuously made and remade by migration. Historian Ira Berlin recently argued that, more than any other experience, the “great migrations” of the seventeenth through the twenty-first centuries lie at the heart of African-American history. National and transnational movements by successive generations (both forced and voluntary) have shaped African-American cultures, political life, and diasporic identities across time and space.
This course will examine the central experience of migration in African-American history. Tracing the “great migrations” from slavery to the present day, it starts with the transatlantic slave trade and the initial development of African-American cultures and identities during the middle passage. It then continues with discussions on the forced migration of enslaved people within antebellum America (in the so-called “second middle passage”); the “great migration” of southern African Americans to the urban North and West in the twentieth century; and the more recent postcolonial influx of Africans and Afro-Caribbeans. We will broadly focus on continuities and discontinuities, variations across time and space, and the influence of migration on African-American cultures, families, communities, and politics.
The course will be taught in the form of history seminars and will be assessed through class assignments, an individual presentation, and a research paper based in part on primary sources available through online databases, in print form, or in the collections of the Roosevelt Institute for American Studies in Middelburg.

Course objectives

Learning objectives, pertaining to this research seminar.
The student:

  • understands the historical relevance and impact of various African-American migrations from slavery to the present day;

  • has knowledge and understanding of the ways in which the Great Migrations have connected the US with other parts of the Atlantic world;

  • has comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the historiographical and theoretical debates regarding the various African-American migrations, starting with the Atlantic slave trade and continuing through the Great Migration and the Global Migrations era;

  • has a working knowledge of the continuities and discontinuities of various African-American migrations during and after slavery;

  • has knowledge of suitable research methods and can independently conduct research using digitally available, published, and unedited primary sources on abolitionism and African-American migrations;

  • has the ability to describe and justify the adopted research methods;

  • (ResMA only): has the ability to interpret a potentially complex corpus of sources and identify new approaches within existing academic debates.

General learning objectives.
The student has acquired:

  • the ability to independently identify and select primary and secondary sources, using traditional and modern techniques;

  • the ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of primary and secondary sources with a view to addressing a particular historical and/or cultural problem;

  • the ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;

  • the ability to formulate and clearly express logical arguments in correct academic English (seminar presentation/essay) and using appropriate citation style;

  • the ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  • the ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;

  • (ResMA only): The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.


See timetable.

Mode of instruction


Attendance is required. If a student cannot attend class, he or she needs to contact the instructor in advance with an explanation. The instructor will then decide if it is excusable and if and how the student can make up the missing work.

Course Load

Total course load 10 ec x 28 hours= 280 hours:

  • seminars: 26 hours;

  • class preparation (including assignments and individual presentation): 24 hours;

  • required reading: 80 hours;

  • researching and writing paper; 150 hours.

Assessment method

Assessment method

  • written paper (ca. 7000 words, based on research of both primary and secondary sources, including footnotes and bibliography);

  • oral presentation;

  • assignments (literature reviews) and class participation.


  • written paper: 70%;

  • assignments and participation: 20%;

  • oral presentation: 10%.

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


If the final grade is insufficient, only the research essay can be rewritten.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Via Blackboard will be used for:

  • general communication between instructor and students;

  • submitting final paper through Turnitin.

Reading list

  • Ira Berlin, The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations (New York: Penguin, 2010).

  • Stephanie E. Smallwood, Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2008).

  • Damian Alan Pargas, Slavery and Forced Migration in the Antebellum South (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

  • Eric Foner, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad (New York: Norton, 2016).

  • Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (New York: Vintage, 2011).

  • Isidore Okpewho & Nkiru Nzegwu, eds., The New African Diaspora (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009).


Via uSis.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Prof. dr. Damian Pargas.