World of a Slave

Encyclopedia of the Material Life of Slaves in the United States

by Martha B. Katz-Hyman and Kym S. Rice, Editors


Enslaved blacks retained some private realm that included toys, musical instruments, clothing, jewelry, and distinctive hair styles. Many individuals successfully preserved African traditions and beliefs, often adapting them to their new home. It is through such objects and practices that modern readers can gain at least some understanding of the day-to-day lives of these men, women, and children.

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Cover image for World of a Slave

December 2010


Pages 581
Volumes 2
Size 7x10
Topics Race and Ethnicity/African American Studies

This two-volume encyclopedia is the first to focus on the material life of slaves.

Although many encyclopedias discuss slavery, enslaved blacks, and African American life and culture, none focus on the material world of slaves, such as what they saw; touched; heard; ate, drank, and smoked; wore; worked with and in; used, cultivated, crafted, played, and played with; and slept on. The two-volume World of a Slave: Encyclopedia of the Material Life of Slaves in the United States is a landmark work in this important new field of study.

Recognizing that a full understanding of the complexity of American slavery and its legacy requires an understanding of the material culture of slavery, the encyclopedia includes entries on almost every aspect of that material culture, beginning in the 17th century and extending through the Civil War. Readers will find information on animals, documents, economy, education and literacy, food and drink, home, music, personal items, places, religion, rites of passage, slavery, structures, and work. There are also introductory essays on literacy and oral culture and on music and dance.


  • 178 A–Z entries on almost all aspects of the material culture of enslaved African Americans from the 17th century until 1865
  • Contributions from a plethora of scholars, curators, artisans, and archaeologists in the field
  • Sidebars including quotations from former slaves in which they describe the use and meaning of material objects
  • Period paintings, watercolors, photographs, and drawings that illustrate the material world of enslaved blacks
  • Photos of buildings, archaeological assemblages, and modern-day reproductions to illustrate specific entries
  • A thematic guide that helps users easily find related topics
  • Includes a substantial selected bibliography, including vetted websites


  • Paves new ground by putting a microscope on the daily life of the slaves, offering fresh insights into how they lived, what they used, what they saw, and much more
  • Brings together in-depth scholarship and analysis from a wide variety of professionals and makes their knowledge accessible to the general reader
  • Presents new information about African American material culture not published elsewhere in a single source
  • Lets students hear the "voices" of slavery through original quotations collected from former slaves by the Works Progress Administration Federal Writers' Project between 1936 and 1938
Author Info

Martha B. Katz-Hyman is an independent curator specializing in historic house furnishing and African American material culture of 18th-century Tidewater Virginia and Maryland. She was previously an associate curator at Colonial Williamsburg and was part of the team that furnished the slave quarters at Colonial Williamsburg's Carter's Grove.

Kym S. Rice has worked on projects involving African American material culture for more than 20 years. Her work includes the Museum of the Confederacy's award-winning exhibition and catalog, "Before Freedom Came: African American Life in the Antebellum South." She is director of the museum studies program at The George Washington University, Washington, DC.



"Highly recommended as a specialized reference title."Library Journal

"This outstanding, objectively written resource is highly recommended for academic and large libraries."Booklist

". . . this two-volume set presents a fresh, powerful picture of the ignoble institution of slavery in the US. . . . this
important encyclopedia will be a useful addition for all academic libraries. . . . Recommended."Choice

"An outstanding addition for all history collections."School Library Journal

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Other Titles of Interest

The Frederick Douglass Encyclopedia cover imageWhat the Slaves Ate cover imageVoices of the African American Experience cover image
Encyclopedia of Blacks in European History and Culture cover imageAfrican Americans in Science cover imagePeople of the Underground Railroad cover image

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