New Directions in Slavery Studies: Commodification, Community, and Comparison
Jeff Forret, Christine E. Sears
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
In this landmark essay collection, twelve contributors chart the contours of current scholarship in the field of slavery studies, highlighting three of the discipline s major themes commodification, community, and comparison and indicating paths for future inquiry.
New Directions in Slavery Studies addresses the various ways in which the institution of slavery reduced human beings to a form of property. From the coastwise domestic slave trade in international context to the practice of slave mortgaging to the issuing of insurance policies on slaves, several essays reveal how southern whites treated slaves as a form of capital to be transferred or protected. An additional piece in this section contemplates the historian s role in translating the fraught history of slavery into film.
Other essays examine the idea of the slave community, an increasingly embattled concept born of revisionist scholarship in the 1970s. This section s contributors examine the process of community formation for black foreigners, the crucial role of violence in the negotiation of slaves sense of community, and the effect of the Civil War on slave society. A final essay asks readers to reassess the long-standing revisionist emphasis on slave agency and the ideological burdens it carries with it.
Essays in the final section discuss scholarship on comparative slavery, contrasting American slavery with similar, less restrictive practices in Brazil and North Africa. One essay negotiates a complicated tripartite comparison of secession in the United States, Brazil, and Cuba, while another uncovers subtle differences in slavery in separate regions of the American South, demonstrating that comparative slavery studies need not be transnational.
New Directions in Slavery Studies provides new examinations of the lives and histories of enslaved people in the United States.
locations point to urban slavery’s diversity and indicate how closely each slave system was woven into the society, economy, and culture of each city. Wade and other scholars separated “urban society” from the slave system embedded in it. But these studies demonstrate, as one historian put it, that “slavery was, in fact, part of the ‘nature’ of many urban societies.” Slavery in its various forms was frequently utilized by city dwellers, but one cannot “abstract a city from its context.”4 Richard
independent Cuba desperately needed soldiers and was thus forced to recruit them among the slaves by promising them liberation as a reward in exchange for their services in the cause of Cuban freedom. Cuban slaves, however, gave their own radical interpretation to the mild provisions of the independent Cuban government, and by fleeing the plantations and joining the rebel army, they effectively “helped transform a separatist struggle led by white slaveholding elites in eastern Cuba into a war for
number of NEGROES, of both sexes, for cash.” And Joseph Bruin offered to “pay liberal prices” for “any number of NEGROES,” not specifying age or sex.16 Such ads had the desired effect on the local slaveholding population. During estate divisions, many heirs of unwanted bondpeople immediately delivered them to interstate traders or sold them at auction to agents of southern planters. The five slaves owned by the estate of William Lane in 1829 were sold to slave trader Alexander Grigsby for a
distressing, bondpeople found opportunities for employment dwindling rapidly. Impressed into government or military service, many slaves lost the ability to negotiate terms of hire, forfeited overtime bonuses, and saw earnings cut. Fewer private opportunities presented themselves as increasing numbers of manufactories and tobacco warehouses closed their doors and strapped white families hired less domestic help.15 Takagi’s tale of increasing oppression rightly emphasizes the ways white fear,
more inclined than Mill to regard slavery as a school for self-development. No one would argue that antebellum slavery afforded slaves the security that Mill insisted autonomy requires, much less met the standards of his expansive understanding of liberty. Rather than confront owners’ many encroachments on slaves head-on, most historians secure the preconditions of autonomy by removing slaveholders from the analysis at the outset. The title of Rawick’s landmark volume From Sundown to Sunup all