They do, however, provide a very valuable service in introducing students, undergraduate or graduate, to what may be major areas of historical research.
Questioning Slavery is intended primarily as an introductory text, offering its readers not a comprehsensive history of slavery but a review of the directions in which slavery studies have been and are heading, and with the emphasis, in characteristic Walvin fashion, on the human dimensions of the subject, especially the social costs of slavery and the slave traffic as well as the efforts of slaves to create their own identities.
As Walvin admits, trying to make sense of 'a generation's scholarship' involves selectivity and 'a degree of artificial ordering' of materials p.
His purpose is to confront some of the main questions or problems that have attracted the attention of scholars and to do so in a critical fashion. Seen in these terms, the book may be judged to be a qualified success. Appropriately, Walvin begins Questioning Slavery by charting the expansion of slave-based plantation production from the Mediterranean and Atlantic islands to, successively, Brazil, the West Indies and mainland North America and by asking the basic question why slavery became so widespread in the Americas and so fundamental to the development of the Atlantic world between and He then goes on briefly to explore the expansion of the transatlantic slave trade and its impact on Africa before turning at greater length to those aspects of slave societies in the Americas with which his own work has become most closely identified, namely, the structure and operation of plantation regimes, the public and private lives of the slaves, and the rise of abolitionist movements in Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Although he looks briefly at slavery in Brazil, which had the longest exposure to imports of enslaved labour from Africa and has been the subject of some recent outstanding studies, Walvin keeps his focus firmly directed to the English-speaking islands and mainland North America. In this respect, his book stands in contrast to some other, much longer, recent syntheses of the literature on transatlantic slavery, notably that of Robin Blackburn The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern , Verso, which places slavery in English-speaking America in the context of the slave systems of other European colonial powers.
Walvin's answer to the basic question of why slavery migrated from the Mediterranean and the Atlantic islands to the Americas leans heavily on economic forces. In particular, he emphasises high land to labour ratios in the colonies conquered by the European powers and the relative costs of coerced and free labour.
These are not new arguments, but it is useful to non-specialists have them presented in such an accessible way as Walvin does. It is important to note, however, that, while patterns of resource endowments and labour supplies may help to explain the rise of American slavery, they do not explain why those enslaved came overwhelmingly from Africa. Walvin insists that the resort to 'servile African labour' largely reflected the 'changing costs and availability of black and white labour' p.
This argument sits uncomfortably, however, with some other other recent studies, where it is claimed that the origins of the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans may have had as much to do with ideological resistance to enslaving whites among European- and American-based slave traffickers as with the relative costs of supplying African and other labour to the Americas David Eltis, 'Europeans and the Rise and Fall of African Slavery in the Americas: If this last argument is correct, it suggests that European racial attitudes to labour helped to shape the patterns of transatlantic slavery rather than, as Walvin and others before him have tended to argue, that slavery gave rise to racism, notably during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when planters in the Americas and their allies in Europe sought to legitimise continuing enslavement of Africans in the face of growing external pressure to end the institution.
The relationship between slavery and racism is likely to remain a controversial issue.
Trivia About Questioning Slavery. Yasmin marked it as to-read Dec 10, Deidra Leake marked it as to-read Feb 20, We are working with the hundreds of companies that partner with us to transition them to the more precise Lexile measures. It is also fair to say that, since he co-authored with Michael Craton in the late s a study of Jamaica's Worthy Park plantation, Walvin's writings have tended to take a more panoramic view as he has surveyed the growth and evolution of slave systems. This text surveys the key questions of slavery, and traces the arguments which have swirled around its history in recent years. Home Sign In Contact Us.
In discussing the conditions experienced by Africans under slavery, Walvin is at pains to emphasise the diversity of plantation regimes in British America and the variations in demographic outcomes for slaves of life in the Americas. In particular, he draws out the contrasts between island and mainland fertility rates of slaves and highlights the importance of crop types and associated labour patterns in determining the reproductive capacity of female slaves.
He is also anxious to stress that, while they were subject to the arbitrary rule and violence of their owners, slaves were, nevertheless, able to influence some aspects of their lives, notably in their domestic quarters and through the cultivation of their garden plots and resistance to loss of customary free time.
How slaves rebuilt their lives and reconstituted their identities after the trauma of enslavement in Africa and forced passage to the Americas forms a central part of Walvin's story, and offers his readers perhaps some of the most revealing insights into trends in recent research on slavery. The precise question or problem that Walvin attempts to address in each of the six chapters that he devotes to slave life on the plantations is not always fully articulated.
But it is clear from his discussion that enslaved Africans themselves used every available opportunity to re-negotiate their conditions of work and to question, usually quietly and stealthily but sometimes violently, the authority of their owners. In this respect, we are reminded that, despite obvious contrasts, there were parallels between employer-employee relations under forced and free labour regimes.
African resistance to enslavement, notably in the form of rebellions, has regularly been included among the catalogue of factors that historians cite to explain the ending of slavery in the nineteenth century.
British efforts to abolish the Atlantic slave trade and slavery after have, of course, been extensively discussed by historians, but why the leading and most successful slave-trading nation in became 'the world's pre-eminent abolitionist force' during the nineteenth century remains, in Walvin's words, one of the 'more perplexing questions in the history of slavery' p. Andrew Spitzer rated it really liked it Oct 29, Charles rated it it was amazing Mar 29, Allan rated it liked it Dec 10, David Zelnar rated it it was amazing Apr 09, Yasmin marked it as to-read Dec 10, Jbondandrews marked it as to-read Feb 26, Tony Campbell marked it as to-read Mar 29, Ian marked it as to-read Dec 29, Nancy Herrera marked it as to-read Mar 29, Beverly Fowlkes marked it as to-read Feb 23, Frances Huggins marked it as to-read Nov 07, Jasmine marked it as to-read Nov 17, Kimberly McFarlane marked it as to-read Jan 11, Reflection added it Aug 15, Sean marked it as to-read Aug 19, Latonya marked it as to-read Aug 22, Christine marked it as to-read Oct 27, Or Segev marked it as to-read Nov 04, Erasmus added it Nov 26, Deidra Leake marked it as to-read Feb 20, Kc marked it as to-read Apr 24, Laura marked it as to-read Feb 12, Floietoss added it Mar 30, Greg marked it as to-read May 28,