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This article was published in the Journal of Negro Education and adapted in his 1947 World and Africa. Du Bois develops a classic anti-imperial argument of the imperial boomerang, arguing that Nazi atrocities have historical precedents in the violence and dehumanization of the colonized world where the color line had justified and elided this domination. The crisis and collapse of Europe signaled by the rise of Nazism indicates for Du Bois the decadence of European civilization, which he describes as a “self-worshiping” structure bound to fall.
This 1933 essay revisits Liberia’s precarious political and economic situation in the wake of a League of Nations commission formed in 1929 to investigate charges that the Liberian government had tolerated slave trading. Du Bois wrote the essay on the basis of a cache of League documents provided to him by the writer and activist Anna Melissa Graves. Du Bois writes that the League’s International Commission of Inquiry or Christy Commission dwelt more on general economic conditions, having quickly concluded that Liberia had successfully suppressed the forced labor practices in question. Its elaborate and misguided economic proposals failed to recognize the true reasons for Liberia’s poverty and debt and threaten to exacerbate the problem. United States government efforts to guarantee the profits of the Firestone Corporation likewise demonstrate Liberia’s vulnerability to being “ruthlessly exploited as a foundation for American and European wealth.”
In the seventeenth century, the British and French established successful permanent settler colonies in North America, while the Dutch established colonies and trading centers in North America, southern Africa, and southeast Asia. In the Indian Ocean basin, first the Dutch and then the British took over more and more trade. Private companies supported these ventures, providing financial backing, ships, and personnel. In the Caribbean and parts of the Americas, European powers established colonies where enslaved Africans worked producing crops on large plantations. Colonization involved the willing and coerced migration of millions of people, who carried their customs, languages, religious beliefs, food ways, and other aspects of their culture with them. These blended into new hybrid forms in a process of creolization, just as groups themselves blended through intermarriage and other sexual relationships. The Europeans who ruled the colonies developed systems of defining and regulating people using changing conceptualizations of difference, in which a hierarchical system based on “race” became increasingly dominant. Colonization also spread Christianity around the world, which blended with other existing and imported spiritual traditions. Colonies also had a powerful economic impact, though the degree to which they shaped the “rise of the West” is hotly debated.
In Chapter 5, I explore Mendonça’s court case in the Vatican and argue that liberation of the enslaved Africans in Brazil, Portugal and Spain was part of a wider Atlantic question. By allying himself with these different constituencies in the Atlantic, Mendonça emphasised that his call for freedom was universal – abolition should go beyond the African frontier to include New Christians and Indigenous Americans. Mendonça’s evidence-based court case challenged the established assertion that Africa was a slaving society that already practised and willingly aided the European Atlantic slave trade. His evidence demonstrated how the mechanics of the Atlantic slave trade operated in Africa, and how violence was used as a strategy for maintaining the institution of slavery. The accused were the Vatican and the Italian, Portuguese, and the Spanish political governing authorities, and Mendonça brought together African accusers from different organisations, confraternities and interest groups. This is a significant reinterpretation of slavery and abolition, revealing a new understandings of Mendonça’s criminal court case in the Vatican as a Black Atlantic abolition movement.
In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the world became far more interconnected than it had been before. The Portuguese connected with the existing rich trading network of the Indian Ocean, and, in response, the Spanish monarchs agreed in 1492 to provide financial backing for Columbus. Other mariners supported by other European monarchs also began to explore the coasts of the “New World” and establish colonies. European voyages, trading ventures, and colonization had a wide range of impacts. In Asia, existing trading networks, traditions, and structures of power changed relatively little. In Africa, the slave trade began to expand, which encouraged warfare, siphoned off workers, and destroyed kinship groups. In the Americas, European diseases eventually killed the vast majority of the Indigenous population. The Spanish set up plantations, built churches, and mined precious metals, using enslaved Americans and Africans. Gold and silver mined in the Americas fueled global trading connections. Increased contacts with Africa, Asia, and the Americas led Europeans to develop new ideas about difference and hierarchy that built on earlier notions and involved religion, social standing, ethnicity, and skin color. Overseas conquests gave Europe new territories and sources of wealth, and also new confidence in its technical and spiritual supremacy.
Chapter 2 examines an ‘agricultural revolution’ in the rural areas around Lake Tanganyika’s emporia, characterised by changes in labour regime, crop choice, and land-use. It uses climatological sources and the wider context of the Indian Ocean monsoon system to examine how the introduction of new crops (cassava, maize, and rice) affected agricultural productivity and vulnerability to the effects erratic climatic conditions, including droughts and floods. It argues that benign environmental conditions in the Indian Ocean World during mid-century contributed to the viability of large port-towns. However, erratic rainfall from 1876 onwards, the replacement of East African staples with less drought-resistant crops, and the increased demands on the region’s agricultural supplies from emporia and the caravan trade exacerbated trends towards violence and instability during the late 1870s and 1880s.
In 1820, King Radama of Imerina, Madagascar signed a treaty allowing approximately one hundred young Malagasy to train abroad under official British supervision, the so-called 'Madagascar Youths'. In this lively and carefully researched book, Gwyn Campbell traces the Youths' untold history, from the signing of the treaty to their eventual recall to Madagascar. Extensive use of primary sources has enabled Campbell to explore the Madagascar Youths' experiences in Britain, Mauritius and aboard British anti-slave trade vessels, and their instrumental role in the modernisation of Madagascar. Through this remarkable history, Campbell examines how Malagasy-British relations developed, then soured, providing vital context to our understanding of slavery, mission activity and British imperialism in the nineteenth century.
The Sultanate's political economy evolved continuously. Since the regime presided over an imperial union of territories that differed in their topography and ecology, the process of evolution in these regions exhibited contrasting patterns of change. Agriculture in the Nile Valley manifested procedures unlike crop raising or animal husbandry along the Syrian coast, upland valleys or semi-arid outback of the Syrian Sahel. Commodities imported from South or East Asia transited from ports in Yemen or Western Arabia through entrepôts on the Upper Nile to Alexandria, where they were transferred to European carriers that conveyed them to destinations on the Mediterranean north shore and beyond. Agents in each of these stages answered to differing sponsors, aligned their conduct of business with local politics and extracted revenues at levels fluctuating within the mechanisms that governed inter-regional trade throughout this period. Domestic commerce in both urban and rural settings dealt in the exchange of commodities produced locally in a workshop milieu. Control over (and profiteering from) marketing of lucrative staples that funneled revenues to the regime, such as spices, textiles or sugar, became a principal objective of governmental authority, with results that enhanced the Sultanate’s fisc in the short term but compromised its competitive position in the longue durée. These issues are considered from the perspective of agriculture or animal husbandry in Egypt and Syria, the varying extent of control exercised over them by the bureaucracy, interregional trade and its manipulation by the Sultanate over time, the domestic commercial economy, and finally the overt expropriation or clandestine extraction on which the regime relied as licit sources of revenue diminished in the Sultanate’s final century.
Positing that African countries willingly commemorate the transatlantic slave trade but forget the legacies of domestic slavery, this chapter examines the continuation of slavery in the shadows of the House of Slaves at Gorée Island. To examine these hidden legacies of slavery, this chapter looks at the history of the mixed-race Signares and their historical implication in the slave trade and domestic slavery. One of the moral conundrums in the legacy of the Signares is their mixed parentage of European fathers and subordinate Black mothers, placing race at the heart of the cultural creolization (métissage) that is celebrated today as the legacy of Signares. This chapter establishes that the heritages of the slave trade and the Signares are framed as irreconcilable discourses that lead to divergent interpretations of the material culture of the island. Examining a controversial statue, the island’s architectural legacies, the impersonators of Signares, and the Festival of Return, this chapter establishes that the antinomies between the legacies of the slave trade and the Signares are occasionally overcome in rituals of reconciliation.
The House of Slaves at Gorée Island was listed as a World Heritage site in 1978, one year before Auschwitz concentration camp. This chapter examines the process of heritagization of the House of Slaves as one of the African sites for the commemoration of the slave trade. Adopting Michael Rothberg’s perspective on multidirectional memory, it demonstrates how the project of the House of Slaves was indebted to the recognition of the Holocaust as a global trauma: the commemoration of the slave trade is in several ways entangled with the commemoration of the Holocaust. But from Senegal’s independence onwards, the House of Slaves was also inflected by a vision of Negritude. The first curator of the House of Slaves, Joseph Ndiaye, gave it a global significance through his performances as ‘witness’ to the slave trade. By giving testimony, Joseph Ndiaye claimed an epistemic space for the articulation of Blackness. He simultaneously introduced the figure of the witness to the genre of the memorial museum and reclaimed the African legacy of orality against the Occidental epistemology of history. As embodiment of a legacy of the project for human rights, Joseph Ndiaye also claimed this museum as an African project of emancipation.
While some authors defend the existence of a widespread economic crisis in Brazil during the 18th century, motivated by the fall in the extraction of precious metals, others suggest that the colonial economy maintained a positive performance thanks to the growth of its domestic market. The main goal of this article is to challenge these two explanations, showing that different rhythms of development characterised Brazil's economy in each of its regions. We show that between the 1750s and 1790s, the Amazon region (Maranhão and Pará) experienced uninterrupted growth. Despite some fluctuations, Bahia and Pernambuco showed a tendency towards growth while the centre-south (Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais) suffered an economic contraction. We conclude that there was a stagnation in the added value of exports from all regions, whilst simultaneous growth for all territories occurred only after 1790.
Chapter 3 examines one of the most high-profile and widely used animal products of the Victorian era: ivory. Employed to make all manner of consumer goods, ivory was heavily sought after in the nineteenth century and was worked on an industrial scale. In the early nineteenth century, much of the ivory consumed in Europe came from historical stockpiles, gathered over centuries by African societies and purchased – or more often seized – by Arab traders for sale on the international market. By the 1870s and 1880s, however, these stockpiles had been exhausted, and elephants began to be slaughtered in large numbers for their tusks – with devastating consequences for the species. The chapter explores the complex networks that brought ivory from the African savannah to the cutlers of Sheffield and piano-makers of London and considers the severe environmental impact of the ever increasing demand for ivory. It goes on to examine the measures taken to protect the African elephant, which ranged from hunting licences and game reservations to export bans on underweight tusks. The final part of the chapter assesses various schemes to domesticate the African elephant, converting it from a supplier of ivory to a beast of burden.
During the American Revolution, abolitionism became a social movement for the first time. Amid their appeals for liberty and equality, Americans increasingly realized the contradictions of owning slaves, and even prominent Founding Father slaveholders spoke of the need to find ways to reform or phase out the institution. The first explicit abolitions in the world occurred amid the War of Independence. By the early republic, antislavery societies became numerous – though the cause’s momentum was thwarted in the closed-door Constitutional Convention and the rise of cotton in the American South in the 1790s motivated a new spread of slavery.
Antislavery agitation spread through reformers with American contacts, but Britain’s movement to abolish the slave trade became the largest social movement of the era. Publishing damning exposés of the traffic, lobbying Members of Parliament, and forming vibrant locals across the British isles, the movement sponsored massive petition-signings that (unlike preceding reform movements) mobilized across social class, while women were also mobilized for boycotting against slave-produced products. The movement only failed to produce immediate results due to a countermovement centered in the slave ports that raised counterpetitions and lobbied for British economic self-interest, particularly once war against Revolutionary France began in 1793.
In the early nineteenth century a centralized political entity, the Galinhas kingdom, emerged in southernmost Sierra Leone. Based on sources from Cuban, British, American, Spanish, and Sierra Leonean archives, this article examines the factors accounting for the emergence and consolidation of Galinhas. I argue that the postabolitionist (1808) redeployment of North Atlantic slave trading actors, networks, routes, and spaces, particularly the connection with Cuba and resources from the island, created the conditions for Galinhas's commercial growth and the centralization of its political power. I then problematize the relationship between warfare, the Atlantic slave trade, and state making. During the foundation of a predatory state, before a slaving and political frontier existed, wars were detrimental to trade. When warfare and commerce — or any social activity — coexisted in the same physical space, the interdependent balance between them, which supported the slave trade itself, was disrupted. After the end of the war, political stability boosted slave trading operations.
Dickinson’s inability to tell the story of slavery is contrasted with M. NourbeSe Philip’s lifework Zong!, a book that attempts to listen to the missing, those who have been obliterated from the judicial archive or murdered in the Black Atlantic. Zong! is derived from a set of procedural constraints, using a legal summary of the Gregson vs. Gilbert decision – a case that determined whether slaves thrown overboard could be claimed as insured goods – to produce sequences of dispersed poems, associated texts and performances. Philip compares these procedural constraints to entering the hold, and her acts of linguistic selection and discarding to those of the slave masters. This radical attempt to restage the violences of history and recover the lost are complicated by her contention that the lyric poet must act as a bridge between the individual and the group. This chapter consider how Philip’s practice moves from page-based experiments with formal constraints, through an antagonistic relationship to the colonial lyric, into collective performance. It considers the significance of re-enactment and ritual in Philip’s work to channel the voices of the ancestors and disrupt the silences of the archive.
The prohibition of slavery is not only a customary rule of international law, it is also an international crime and a norm of jus cogens. Slavery has been famously described as ‘social death’, but this chapter considers whether, and in which circumstances, it may also constitute a violation of the right to life.