Slavery and Modernity

Over the past decade several scholars have published works concerning the influence of slavery on modern institutions and ideals of liberalism.  Are the following works part of a larger trend toward recognizing the economic and institutional effects of slavery (in a non Marxist interpretation) on the histories of modernity, liberalism, and globalization?   For instance, William Pettigrew’s Freedom’s Debt: The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672-1752 (2013) argued that free trade, a hallmark of liberalism, gained momentum in the slave trade and became a constitutional battle for English merchants claiming their right to trade with Africa for slaves as a natural born liberty of all Englishmen.  Justin Roberts’ Slavery and the Enlightenment in the British Atlantic 1750-1807 (2013) investigated slave plantation management practices synonymous with Enlightenment ideals of efficiency and production–usually indicative of the industrial revolution.  Also in 2013, an article in the Harvard Business Review “The Messy Link Between Slave Owners And Modern Management” addressed ideas similar to that of Roberts, but through the research of Caitlin C. Rosenthal.  These works complement Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton: A Global History and Edward E. Baptist’s The Half Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of Modern Capitalism (2014).

These works cover ideological, economic, and institutional developments of some of the key features of modernity and capitalism.  Like Gilroy’s Black Atlantic, renegotiate meanings of modernity and transcend the effects of slavery across national boundaries into global ideals of liberalism and capitalism (though Beckert’s book is based on the American (U.S.) South).    The time span of these works range from the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries, constituting what Traversa (the Transatlantic Studies Journal at University of Texas) considers transatlantic. Are these writings part of something larger in global history, can the works of Atlanticists connect with the ‘new history of capitalism’?

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