Thursday’s lecture in European History Since 1648 at UNLV focused on the Atlantic Slave Trade and its impact on the various parts of the world touched by the trade in human beings that moved between four continents.
|One of many images used by British abolitionists in their efforts against the Slave Trade|
We started off by discussing some of the various ways in which historians have suggested that the Slave Trade helped to create a modern world: the creation of much of the capital that kick-started the industrial revolution; the hardening of racial attitudes that pre-figured 19th century European colonialism; the critical weakening of African states and their abilities to respond to Europeans; the systems of accounting and calculation that emerged from the plantation economies in the south and the Caribbean; and, as people began to critique the trade in more effective terms, the genesis of what some would argue to be the first modern human rights movement.
We discussed some of the differences between chattel slavery as it emerged in this context and slavery as it existed in some pre-colonial societies, and then moved on to an overview of the trade through an examination of some of the statistics which help to bring home its scale and the wealth it generated.
But as Abolitionists themselves realized, raw numbers were insufficient to capture the horror of the abductions, the middle passage, and plantation life. And so we discussed a selection from Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative, the account of a freed slave that reached audiences around Britain in the 18th century, providing them with a first-hand narrative of a slave’s experience.
Students also had their first historiographical article as well, and we read a piece by an historian of the Caribbean who followed in the footsteps of historian and Trinidadian politician Eric Williams in arguing that Britain’s decision to end the slave trade had precious little to do with morality, and more with trying to re-tool the Caribbean economy and the British economy more broadly to compete with European rivals and fit with economic philosophies articulated by the likes of Adam Smith.
Tuesday’s class will range quite widely in terms of time, when we continue our discussions about the political economy of Europe through an examination of the British East India Company, and its role in shaping the institutions and interests of the modern world between its founding at the beginning of the 17th century and the Opium Wars of the 19th century. Stay tuned…