The American Historical Review and Past & Present have joined forces to publish a joint, virtual special issue reviewing historiographic debates related to slavery and anti-slavery in the Atlantic World.
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, an online database providing information about slaves and slave trading voyages, will soon expand to include information about intra-American slave trade as well as have a new accessibility. The online database is supervised by two Emory faculty members in partnership with international scholars. The project investigators — David Eltis, Robert…
David Eltis, Robert W. Woodruff Professor of History at Emory University, on the making of the Transatlantic Slave Trade database, a landmark collaborative digital project he has co-edited for two decades. Eltis discusses the research process, online dissemination, and new directions for the initiative. This is the second part of a two-part series recorded at the Atlantic Slave Biographies Database Conference at Michigan State University in November 2013.
Mintz, Steven, and John Stauffer. The Problem of Evil: Slavery, Freedom, And the Ambiguities of American Reform. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007.
Leading scholars explore the moral dimension of American history
A collective effort to present a new kind of moral history, this volume seeks to show how the study of the past can illuminate profound ethical and philosophical issues. More specifically, the contributors address a variety of questions raised by the history of American slavery. How did freedom—personal, civic, and political—become one of the most cherished values in the Western world? How has the language of slavery been applied to other instances of exploitation and depersonalization? To what extent is America’s high homicide rate a legacy of slavery? Did the abolitionist movement’s tendency to view slavery as a product of sin, rather than as a structural and economic problem, accelerate or impede emancipation?
Divided into four parts, with introductions to each section by editors Steven Mintz and John Stauffer, the essays provide succinct guides to the evolution of American slavery, the origins of antislavery thought, the challenges of emancipation, and the post-emancipation legacy of slavery. They also offer fresh perspectives on key individuals, from Benjamin Franklin and Frederick Douglass to Harriet Jacobs and John Brown, and shed new light on the differences between female and male critiques of slavery, the defense of slavery by the South’s intellectual elite, and Catholic attitudes toward slavery and abolition.
Above all, The Problem of Evil helps us understand the circumstances that allow social evils to happen, how intelligent and ostensibly moral people can participate in the most horrendous crimes, and how, at certain historical moments, some individuals are able to rise above their circumstances, address evil in fundamental ways, and expand our moral consciousness.
Eltis, David, and David Richardson. Extending the Frontiers: Essays on the New Transatlantic Slave Trade Database. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.
Since 1999, intensive research efforts have vastly increased what is known about the history of coerced migration of transatlantic slaves. A huge database of slave trade voyages from Columbus’s era to the mid-nineteenth century is now available on an open-access Web site, incorporating newly discovered information from archives around the Atlantic world. The groundbreaking essays in this book draw on these new data to explore fundamental questions about the trade in African slaves. The research findings—that the size of the slave trade was 14 percent greater than had been estimated, that trade above and below the equator was largely separate, that ports sending out the most slave voyages were not in Europe but in Brazil, and more—challenge accepted understandings of transatlantic slavery and suggest a variety of new directions for important further research.
H-Net Review by Isaac Land available here.
Fields-Black, Edda L. Deep Roots: Rice Farmers in West Africa and the African Diaspora. Indiana University Press, 2008.
Gilbert, Erik. “Coastal Rice Farming Systems in Guinea and Sierra Leone, Deep Roots: Rice Farmers in West Africa and the African Diaspora. By Edda L. Fields-Black.” The Journal of African History 50, no. 03 (2009): 437-438.
From the review by Erik Gilbert:
“The role of African technologies and agricultural knowledge in the development of rice farming in the Americas has drawn considerable scholarly attention in the last decade. That Africans might have contributed not just their labor to the tidal rice-farming systems of the South Carolina Low Country but also essential knowledge of the techniques needed to grow rice in that challenging environment is highly appealing. It gives agency to enslaved Africans and recognizes the sophistication of West African riziculture. The most recent expression of this idea has been Judith Carney’s Black Rice.1 Carney’s work has been challenged by David Eltis, Philip Morgan, and David Richardson, who have argued that the number of slaves coming to South Carolina from rice-growing areas of Africa is too small to explain the development of American rice farming.2
Edda Fields-Black’s new book contributes to this debate primarily by adding to our knowledge of the coastal rice-farming systems of Guinea and Sierra Leone, where rice-farming techniques most closely resemble the tidal irrigation systems of the South Carolina Low Country. In this part of Sierra Leone, farmers clear mangrove swamps and, through careful control of the movement of fresh water through the fields, drain and desalinate the soil. This is a process that can take years and that can be reversed almost instantly if embankments built to keep salt water out are breached. Managing the water supply to these fields requires careful harnessing of tides in the river estuaries so that salt water is kept out but fresh water is allowed in. Early observers of this system assumed that the stateless societies of the coast were unlikely to have created so complex a technology and that it must have been introduced either by Europeans or by Africans from the states of the interior….”
Read the rest at Cambridge Journals ($$)
This month’s American Historical Review features a forum on Judith Carney’s much discussed work Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas (Harvard University Press, 2001). Scholars S. Max Edelson, Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Walter Hawthorne, David Eltis, Philip Morgan and David Richardson weigh in.
From “Black Rice” to “Brown”: Rethinking the History of Risiculture in the Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Atlantic Walter Hawthorne
Volume 45, Issue 1 (2008) includes:
Hebe Mattos. ““Black Troops” and Hierarchies of Color in the Portuguese Atlantic World: The Case of Henrique Dias and His Black Regiment.” Luso-Brazilian Review 45, no. 1 (2008): 6-29.
Walter Hawthorne. ““Being now, as it were, one family”: Shipmate bonding on the slave vessel Emilia, in Rio de Janeiro and throughout the Atlantic World.” Luso-Brazilian Review 45, no. 1 (2008): 53-77.
Paulina Alberto. “Para africano ver: African-Bahian Exchanges in the Reinvention of Brazil’s Racial Democracy, 1961–63.” Luso-Brazilian Review 45, no. 1 (2008): 78-117.
Ben Penglase. “The Bastard Child of the Dictatorship: The Comando Vermelho and the Birth of “Narco-culture” in Rio de Janeiro.” Luso-Brazilian Review 45, no. 1 (2008): 118-145.
Thaïs Machado-Borges. “O antes e o depois: Feminilidade, classe e raça na revista Plástica e Beleza.” Luso-Brazilian Review 45, no. 1 (2008): 146-163.
Isabel Ferreira Gould. “Decanting the Past: Africa, Colonialism, and the New Portuguese Novel.” Luso-Brazilian Review 45, no. 1 (2008): 182-197.
From the introduction by Peter M. Beattie.
The lead section of this LBR volume brings together four articles on the Lusophone South Atlantic by historians of Africa and Brazil originally presented to the Michigan State University and University of Michigan’s Atlantic History workshop “ReCapricorning the Atlantic: Luso-Brazilian and Luso-African Perspectives on the Atlantic World.”1 The workshop and this special volume’s title is a twist on Andre Gunder Frank’s ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998) in which the renowned economic historian argued that Asia had been the hub of the global economy through the early modern period and that a Johnny-come-lately Europe “used its American money to buy itself a ticket on the Asian train” after 1800 to “temporarily” become the new hub of global trade (p. xxv). Frank’s interest in Asia’s role in the global economy was a significant departure from his earlier work which had focused on exploring Portuguese and Spanish America’s underdevelopment within the frameworks of dependency and world systems theory. “ReCapricorning the Atlantic” returns to the site of Frank’s earlier work to consider a similar reorientation based on perspectives centered around the Tropic of Capricorn within a body of scholarship that has come to be known as “Atlantic History.” The South Atlantic was the economic hub and arguably the most significant formative matrix of the early modern European colonial enterprise in Africa and the Americas. Yet to date, most Atlantic history has focused on the British and to a somewhat lesser extent, French Empires and their remnants in the Americas and Africa. This “North Atlantic-centrism” is reflected in many classic titles in Atlantic History that conceal their much more limited geographic emphases in terms of primary research (e.g., David Eltis, The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas; Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, or David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture). With these legacies in mind, workshop participants set out to “ReCapricorn the Atlantic” by assessing how new research on the Lusophone South Atlantic modifies, challenges, or confirms major trends and paradigms in the expanding scholarship on Atlantic History. Their approaches broaden the discussion of Atlantic History’s meanings and utility as a category of analysis and body of scholarship across imperial, geographic, chronological, and disciplinary boundaries. The four articles published here are indicative of the potential of South Atlantic research to shape broader debates in Atlantic History and other significant areas of historical inquiry.
Available at Project Muse and at your local library. (Interesting sidenote: Project Muse now has a Share on Facebook widget)
Stephanie E. Smallwood, “African Guardians, European Slave Ships, and the Changing Dynamics of Power in the Early Modern Atlantic,” William & Mary Quarterly 64, no. 4 (October 2007): 679-716.
First Paragraph Steal:
“POWER was nowhere more precariously held in the early modern Atlantic than aboard a slave ship. Because their cargoes were unwilling travelers, slave ships were distinguished by the unmitigated contest between African captives and the European seamen charged to transport them to American markets: between slaves with superior strength in numbers and sailors desperate to prevent rebellious uprising by any means necessary. Though it is true that “perhaps no more than one slave voyage in ten experienced an actual outbreak” of revolt, scholars accept as axiomatic Michael Craton’s further suggestion that “few voyages were ever completed without the discovery or threat of slave conspiracy, and no slaving captain throughout the history of the Atlantic trade ever sailed without a whole armory of guns and chains plus as many white crewmen as he could recruit and keep alive to act as seaborne jailers.” David Eltis’s characterization of the slave ship as a place where “naked physical force determined who would be in control” and where “any relaxation of vigilance or reduction in the amount of force available would mean rebellion” seems squarely on the mark.1 Yet slave ships were more complex than the reliance on naked physical force suggests. The dynamics of power aboard ship could also be affected by the use of African “guardians”: slaves appointed to police fellow captives during the Atlantic crossing.”
Available online (not for free) at History Cooperative and at your local college/university library.
Smallwood’s book, Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora was published by Harvard University Press in February 2007.
From the website:
Over 34,000 individual slaving expeditions between 1527 and 1866 that have been identified and verified to have actually occurred make up the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. Records of the voyages have been found in multiple archival sources which are listed in a variable in the dataset. These records provide details about vessels, enslaved peoples, slave traders and owners, and trading routes. The database enables users to search for information about a particular voyage or group of voyages and it provides full interactive capability to analyze the data and report results in the form of statistical tables, graphs, maps, or on a timeline. In addition to information in the database itself, specific voyages are linked to images and to copies of primary sources in the “Resources” section, and “Educational materials” like lesson-plans are linked in turn to relevant voyages in the main database. Users are encouraged to compare findings from the main database with “Estimates” in the first section. The latter are somewhat higher because they represent an attempt to take into account the number of slaves on voyages for which information is lacking or not yet included in the main database.
The the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database is an invaluable resource for anyone doing research on the Atlantic African diaspora.
The website is still incomplete. There are empty links where crucial pages on methodology, authors, and lesson plans will be. There also don’t appear to be any author credits available yet. The Cambridge version for the CD-ROM is only a touch better, describing the CD-ROM “a data set compiled by respected historians and draws on the archival work of Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, English, and French scholars” without mentioning a single one anywhere on their site. To actually know that this is phenomenal work of David Eltis, David Richardson, Stephen Behrendt and Herbert Klein (and many research assistants) or that the project was sponsored by the W. E. B. DuBois Institute at Harvard University, requires some Google searching.
All that said, that this extensive database is now accessible online, not just on CD-ROM, is very exciting.
Visit the website (hopefully completed soon) here.
[Update: The site should be completed and open to the public; the above link is working fine. Thank you for the emails and comments of concern!]