Serfdom Compared To Slavery: History 101 Exam Question

26 Jun

Essay Unused for Exam 1:
Question: On the basis of the analysis of Peter Kolchin, please compare and contrast the differences and similarities between two institutions of human bondage in the 18th and 19th century: Slavery in the American South and serfdom in imperial Russia.

Difference Between Serfdom And Slavery

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Russia and America operated similar forms of human bondage. The differences included ownership direct involvement, omnipresence versus regionally, subjects level self-governance, and racial identification of subjects.

Russian serfs worked under a quasi-contract leading to possible exploitation through labor obligations or obrok. These Russian serf-owners often owned thousands of serfs; the largest owned tens of thousands so were not directly involved in daily operations. In Russian, serfdom was relatively evenly distributed throughout the country. Russian serfdom was not racially distinctive, peasants of all descents may become serfs. Often, serfs were descendants of conquered sects. Russian serfs had greater opportunities than American slaves, but this was rarely taken advantage of. The serfs could reach a superior serf status, granting them some serfs working under them.

In comparison, American slave-owners directly managed the slaves daily activities. The owners usually owned less than two hundred slaves; the largest couple of owners had possession of not much more than one thousand slaves. In comparison, American slavery was regionally secular, for the most part slaves were in the southern states. American slaves were almost entirely African and the owners were European. In addition, the physical appearance of American slaves made it impossible to blend into society.


Kolchin, Peter, Foreword to Up from Serfdom. In: Alexander Nikitenko, Up from Serfdom. My Childhood and Youth in Russia 1804-1824 (New Haven: Yale University Press 2001). p.IX-XX.

Hansen, Valerie and Kenneth Curtis. Voyages in World History, Volume 2 Since 1500. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010.

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Posted by on June 26, 2011 in Class Writing, History


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