EDITED: Robertson and Klein on Women and Slavery in Africa


African Diaspora, Ph.D. is revisiting scholarship that has shaped the study of people of African descent across time and place.

Claire C. Robertson and Martin A. Klein, eds. Women and Slavery in Africa. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

In a 1985 review of the volume, Patrick Manning wrote:

“This is only the third major volume of empirical studies on African slavery. It is the best of the three. It demonstrates the potential impact of the study of women in society when that study is not ghettoized, or cut off from the wider discourse of African studies. The present book not only documents the lives of African women, but gives solid ground for a new perspective on the evolution of African society as a whole.”


In a separate review, Susan Martin wrote:

“Many stimulating ideas are presented in the book, but historians may well find themselves tempted to rearrangethe material or to ask different questions. For example, there is a lively debate among the contributors on whether women were valued as slaves primarily because of their heavy labour burden within an archetypal African sexual division of labour, or because of their childbearing potential, or because of their relative passivity and steadying influence on male slaves. Yet one may well ask why any of these points should be universally true, within Africa or elsewhere.

In 2009, on the podcast Africa Past and Present, Klein reflected on his and Robertson’s work on the volume, and described ways scholarship on women and slavery in Africa continues to shape the field of African history. Listen here.

Works Cited:

Patrick Manning, “Review of Women and Slavery in Africa by Claire C. Robertson; Marti A. Klein.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 16, no. 2 (October 1, 1985): 367–369.

Susan Martin, “Women as Slaves Women and Slavery in Africa. Edited by Claire C. Robertson and Martin A. Klein. Madison and London: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983. Pp. X + 380. £19.15.” The Journal of African History 26, no. 04 (1985): 416–417.

Featured Image Credit: Archibald Dalzel, The History of Dahomey: An Inland Kingdom of Africa (London, 1793), facing p. 55. Caption: “armed women with the king at their head, going to war.” as shown on http://www.slaveryimages.org, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library. (Click here for details)

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