Slaves in the Family

From New York Times:

Ship In today’s history books, slavery has become the foundation for our understanding of the past, and almost all universities in the country offer some course on the subject. Books pour from the presses; by one count more than 75 have been published this past year. More are on the way, along with the usual array of CD’s and Web sites.

But despite this enormous outflow, controversies continue. For some, slavery is a handy metaphor for exploitation (thus “wage slavery” and the “slavery of sex”). Today’s sweatshops, they say, are indistinguishable from yesterday’s sugar mills and cotton fields. For others, however, chattel bondage is not just one kind of coercion. Its specific attributes distinguish it from all other forms of oppression, giving it a unique place in human history. And for all Americans, there is the enduring contradiction of their republic as both the beacon of liberty and the world’s largest slaveholder.

So the publication of David Brion Davis’s “Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World” could not be more welcome. As much as any single scholar, Davis, a professor emeritus and the former director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale University, has made slavery a central element in modern historiography. Although the focus of “Inhuman Bondage” is largely on the Americas, he appreciates that the slavery of the recent past cannot be understood apart from its long history, one that reaches back to antiquity and stretches across the globe.

More here.