Professor Sean Kelley

Department of History
Professor Sean Kelley
  • Email

  • Telephone

    +44 (0) 1206 874194

  • Location

    5NW.8.16, Colchester Campus

  • Academic support hours

    By appointment.



I am a historian of New World slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. My first book examined a major plantation region in Texas from the perspective of borderlands history. My second book was a microhistory of a single slave-trading voyage from 1754. I taught at several institutions in the US before coming to Essex in 2015. I am working on my third book, which examines the involvement of North American merchants in the transatlantic slave trade from 1644-1865. I have been involved in the Freedom Narratives Project, a collaborative effort by historians on four continents to collect, transcribe, and publish the autobiographical testimonies of Africans from the era of the slave trade. I am also the UK Principal Investigator for the Documenting Africans in Transatlantic Slavery (DATAS) Project, funded by the NWO and ESRC. The DATAS project brings together scholars from four continents to recover materials on enslaved Africans and to build a biographical database. I welcome inquiries from prospective M.A. and Ph.D. students who are interested in studying New World slavery, the transatlantic slave trade, and early American history.


  • B.A. San Francisco State University

  • M.A. University of Texas

  • Ph.D. University of Texas

Research and professional activities

Research interests

New World slavery

Open to supervise

The transatlantic slave trade

Open to supervise

Africans in the Americas

Open to supervise

Transnational mercantile networks and connections

Open to supervise

Maritime history

Open to supervise

Testimony, autobiography, and narrative in African and Atlantic history

Open to supervise

Global and transnational approaches to history

Open to supervise

Teaching and supervision

Current teaching responsibilities

  • Modern Revolutions in Science, Politics, and Culture (CS101)

  • The World Transformed: The Enlightenment and Its Critics (CS111)

  • Contemporary Challenges in Latin America (CS141)

  • Resisting Empire (HR104)

  • Europe Transformed: 1450-1750 (HR111)

  • Approaches to History (HR211)

  • Resistance and Rebellion in the World of Atlantic Slavery (HR229)

  • Choosing Your Past: How to Design and Manage a Research Project (HR231)

  • History Works: Career Portfolio (HR510)

  • Research Project (HR831)

  • Making History, Sharing History: Sources, Methods, and Audiences for Historical Research (HR935)

  • War and Slavery in the Atlantic World (HR968)


Journal articles (11)

Kelley, S., (2021). Massacre at Portudal?: Reexamining the Rainbow, Boston’s First Transatlantic Slave Voyage, 1644-45. Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Kelley, S., (2020). Enslavement in Upper Guinea during the Era of the Transatlantic Slave Trade: Biographical Perspectives. African Economic History. 48 (1), 46-73

Kelley, SM., (2019). New World Slave Traders and the Problem of Trade Goods: Brazil, Barbados, Cuba, and North America in Comparative Perspective. English Historical Review. 134 (567), 302-333

Kelley, SM., (2019). DB or not DB: Writing the history of the slave trade to North America in the era of the database. History Compass. 17 (5), e12530-e12530

Kelley, SM., (2018). American Rum, African Consumers, and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. African Economic History. 46 (2), 1-29

Kelley, SM. and Lovejoy, HB., (2016). The Origins of the African-Born Population of Antebellum Texas: A Research Note. Southwestern Historical Quarterly. 120 (2), 216-232

Kelley, SM., (2016). Recovering the Stolen Histories of American Slaves. Zocalo Public Square

Kelley, S., (2013). Scrambling for Slaves: Captive Sales in Colonial South Carolina. Slavery & Abolition. 34 (1), 1-21

Kelley, S., (2008). Blackbirders and Bozales: African-born slaves on the lower Brazos river of Texas in the nineteenth century. Civil War History. 54 (4), 406-423

Kelley, S., (2007). A Texas Peasantry? Black Smallholders in the Texas Sugar Bowl, 1865–1890. Slavery & Abolition. 28 (2), 193-209

Kelley, S., (2004). "Mexico in His Head": Slavery and the Texas-Mexico Border, 1810-1860. Journal of Social History. 37 (3), 709-723

Books (2)

Kelley, SM., (2016). The Voyage of the Slave Ship Hare: A Journey Into Captivity from Sierra Leone to South Carolina. University of North Carolina Press. 1469627698. 9781469627687

Kelley, SM., (2010). Los Brazos de Dios: A plantation society in the Texas borderlands, 1821-1865. 9780807136874

Book chapters (4)

Kelley, S., (2019). Precedents: The 'Captured Negroes' of Tortola, 1807-1822. In: Liberated Africans and the Abolition of the Slave Trade, 1807-1896. Editors: Anderson, R. and Lovejoy, HB., . University of Rochester Press

Kelley, S., (2019). Twelve Years a Slave and the ‘Unthinkability’ of Enslaved Autobiography. In: Biography and History in Film. Editors: Freeman, T. and Smith, D., . Palgrave. 978-3-319-89407-2

Kelley, SM., (2015). The Dirty Business of Panyarring and Palaver: Slave Trading on the Upper Guinea Coast in the Eighteenth Century. In: Slavery, Abolition and the Transition to Colonialism in Sierra Leone. Editors: Lovejoy, P., . Africa World Press. 89- 108. 1592219837. 9781592219834

Kelley, SM., (2011). Slavery and the Texas Border. In: Major Problems in the History of North American Borderlands: Documents and Essays. Editors: H�m�l�inen, P. and Johnson, BH., . Wadsworth. 321- 329

Other (2)

Kelley, SM., (2019).Freedom’s debtors: British antislavery in the age of revolution. Slavery & Abolition. 40(2),Informa UK Limited

Kelley, SM., (2016).Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850. AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW. 121(4),Oxford University Press (OUP)

Grants and funding


Documenting Africans in Trans-Atlantic Slavery (DATAS)

Arts and Humanities Research Council

+44 (0) 1206 874194


5NW.8.16, Colchester Campus

Academic support hours:

By appointment.