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The Abolition of the African Slave Trade in Brazil  

Jaime Rodrigues

The second law banning the African slave trade to Brazil came into force in 1850, and became known as the Eusébio de Queirós Law (de Queirós was then Minister of Justice of the Brazilian Empire). A previous attempt made in 1831 failed and the slave trade continued in the form of smuggling from that date until 1850, although until the mid-1850s there were several illegal landings and, then, traffic to the ports of the Brazil was definitely closed. There were many themes in the political debate before the African slave trade ended, from the end of the 18th century until 1850. During this period, the state, the slaveholders and their representatives in the legislative branch and in the courts of justice maintained pro-slavery arguments but changed the way they were used, under the strong British pressure to end slave trade with diplomatic and military actions since 1807. During the first half of the 19th century and, above all, after the proclamation of Brazilian Independence in 1822, the end of the slave trade became a political question in connection with other important themes regarding the formation of the Brazilian state and nation: the need of a labor force for agriculture, the fear of slave actions, national sovereignty in relation to foreign pressure, the supposed corruption of customs due to slavery, and the formation of a Brazilian people based on the work of slaves, freed people, and the poor. All of these themes would be discussed in public settings, such as Parliament, the press, and books on the defense and propaganda of slavery, for example.

Article

Atlantic Slavery and the Slave Trade: History and Historiography  

Daniel B. Domingues da Silva and Philip Misevich

Over the past six decades, the historiography of Atlantic slavery and the slave trade has shown remarkable growth and sophistication. Historians have marshalled a vast array of sources and offered rich and compelling explanations for these two great tragedies in human history. The survey of this vibrant scholarly tradition throws light on major theoretical and interpretive shifts over time and indicates potential new pathways for future research. While early scholarly efforts have assessed plantation slavery in particular on the antebellum United States South, new voices—those of Western women inspired by the feminist movement and non-Western men and women who began entering academia in larger numbers over the second half of the 20th century—revolutionized views of slavery across time and space. The introduction of new methodological approaches to the field, particularly through dialogue between scholars who engage in quantitative analysis and those who privilege social history sources that are more revealing of lived experiences, has conditioned the types of questions and arguments about slavery and the slave trade that the field has generated. Finally, digital approaches had a significant impact on the field, opening new possibilities to assess and share data from around the world and helping foster an increasingly global conversation about the causes, consequences, and integration of slave systems. No synthesis will ever cover all the details of these thriving subjects of study and, judging from the passionate debates that continue to unfold, interest in the history of slavery and the slave trade is unlikely to fade.

Article

Basques in the Atlantic World, 1450–1824  

Xabier Lamikiz

Basques formed a minority ethnic group whose diaspora had a significant impact on the history of colonial Latin America. Basques from the four Spanish or peninsular Basque territories—the Lordship of Vizcaya, the provinces of Álava and Guipúzcoa, and the Kingdom of Navarra—migrated to the New World in significant numbers; the French Basques were also prominent in the Atlantic, particularly in the Newfoundland fisheries. The population density of the Basque Atlantic valleys, which was the highest of any region in Spain, was an important factor that encouraged emigration. And, in response to demographic pressure, in the second half of the 15th century most villages and towns adopted an impartible inheritance system that compelled non-inheriting offspring to seek their fortunes outside the country. Castile was the immediate choice for the Basque émigré, but after 1492 America gradually became an attractive destination. Outside their home country, their unique language and sense of collective nobility (hidalguía universal) were to become two outstanding features of Basque cultural identity. The Basques’ share of total Spanish migration to the New World increased significantly in the second half of the 17th century. By the 18th century they were one of the largest and most influential peninsular regional groups in America. The typical Basque émigré was a young, single man aged between fifteen and thirty. In the New World they left their mark in economic activities that their countrymen had developed in their homeland for centuries: trade, navigation, shipbuilding, and mining. Furthermore, Basques’ collective nobility and limpieza de sangre (blood purity) facilitated their access to important official positions.

Article

The Wisconsin School of African History  

Joseph C. Miller

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has been a prominent producer of doctorates in African history since 1963. As of 2017 the institution had granted more than 110 degrees. Philip D. Curtin and Jan Vansina, both pioneers in launching the field, led the program until 1975 and were joined in 1969 by Steven Feierman. Together, they supervised an initial cohort of graduates, several of whom became leaders of the then still-formative field, particularly in its methodological infrastructure, as well as in economic and demographic history, slavery in Africa and the Atlantic slave trade, and medical history. The distinguishing features qualifying a diverse array of individual intellectual trajectories as a coherent “school” include a focus on epistemologically historical approaches anchored in the intellectual perspectives of Africans as historical actors and often also as they engaged broader commercial Atlantic and Indian Ocean and world contexts; smaller numbers of more recent doctorates had subsequently sustained these orientations. Former graduates of the program, William W. Brown, David Henige, and Thomas T. Spear, returned after 1975 to update this framework by bringing social theory and cultural history to bear on the African historical actors at the program’s core. Since 2005, a third generation of faculty members, Neil Kodesh, James Sweet, and Emily Colacci (all students of Wisconsin PhDs teaching at other institutions), have added contemporary approaches to the Wisconsin school’s continuing commitment to Africans’ distinctive epistemologies as they engaged the flows of modern global history. Professionally, Madison graduates have, accordingly, led the ongoing effort to bring Africa in from its initial marginality—as the continent seen as uniquely without a history—into the historical discipline’s core. An aphoristic summary of the Wisconsin legacy might be “Africans’ worlds and Africans in the world.”

Article

Freedom Suits in the Ibero-Atlantic World  

Cristina Nogueira da Silva and Mariana Dias Paes

Throughout the period when slavery was a legally sanctioned institution in the Atlantic and Mediterranean worlds (c. 1500–c. 1888), Africans and their descendants in Europe, Africa, and the Americas approached courts and other institutions to claim their entire or partial freedom. Known as “freedom suits,” these lawsuits allow access to their conceptions of freedom and justice. Mobilizing a common normative framework, enslaved individuals advanced their own interpretations regarding norms that governed slavery and freedom. This common framework, however, acquired specific meanings in different regions, depending on the configuration of the relationship between slave and owner as well as on the agency of the enslaved themselves. Enslaved women and men advanced numerous arguments in courts, but their chances of success varied widely. In the long term, these lawsuits were fundamental in determining the directions that the institution of slavery took in the Ibero-Atlantic world.

Article

Culture and Society at the Cape of Good Hope, 1652–1795  

Gerald Groenewald

In 1652 the Dutch East India Company founded a “refreshment station” in Table Bay on the southwestern coast of Africa for its fleets to and from the East Indies. Within a few years, this outpost developed into a fully-fledged settler colony with a “free-burgher” population who made an existence as grain, wine, and livestock farmers in the interior, or engaged in entrepreneurial activities in Cape Town, the largest settlement in the colony. The corollary of this development was the subjugation of the indigenous Khoikhoi and San inhabitants of the region, and the importation and use of a relatively large slave labor force in the agrarian and urban economies. The colony continued to expand throughout the 18th century due to continued immigration from Europe and the rapid growth of the settler population through natural increase. During that century, about one-third of the colony’s population lived in Cape Town, a cosmopolitan harbor city with a large transient, and overwhelmingly male, population which remained connected with both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds. The unique society and culture that developed at the Cape was influenced by both these worlds. Although in many ways, the managerial superstructure of the Cape was similar to that of a Dutch city, the cosmopolitan and diverse nature of its population meant that a variety of identities and cultures co-existed alongside each other and found expression in a variety of public forms.

Article

Jews and Jewish Communal Identity in Early America  

Holly Snyder

Jewish communities in the Americas followed in the wake of European contact with the western hemisphere at the end of the 15th century, and were a byproduct of the process of European colonization. Early Jewish settlements relied on a combination of economic investment, political negotiation, social networking, and subterfuge to establish the means of communal survival. While the Jewish experience in the Americas continued to operate within the sphere of European attitudes and modalities of behavior brought over to the western hemisphere by the colonizers, the remoteness of these New World communities and the friction caused by competing inter-imperial goals eventually allowed Jews to take advantage of new economic opportunities and expand their social and political range beyond what was feasible for Jewish communities in Europe in the same period. New World colonization shifted the ways that Jews were seen within European cultures, as contact with Indigenous peoples of the Americas and the importation of Africans as slaves allowed Europeans to see Jews as comparatively less alien than they had previously been defined. While Jews, as individuals and as communities, continued to face discriminatory treatment (such as extraordinary taxation, prohibitions on voting and officeholding, scapegoating, and social exclusion), they were able to exercise many of the status privileges accorded to those with European Christian identities. These privileges included the capacity to freely pursue economic activities in trade and agriculture and to exploit enslaved peoples for their labor and for other purposes. With this elevated status came tension within the Jewish community over assimilation to European Christian norms, and an ongoing struggle to preserve Jewish identity and communal distinctiveness.

Article

Atlantic History  

Alison Games

The field of Atlantic history analyzes the Atlantic Ocean and its four adjoining continents as a single unit of historical analysis. The field is a style of inquiry as much as it is a study of a geographic region. It is an approach that emphasizes connections and circulations, and its practitioners tend to de-emphasize political borders in their interest in exploring the experiences of people whose lives were transformed by their location within this large region. The field’s focus is the period from c. 1450 to 1900, but important debates about periodization reflect the challenges of writing a history that has no single geographic vantage point yet strives to be as inclusive as possible. The history of the United States intersects with Atlantic history in multiple ways, although the fields are neither parallel nor coterminous. Assessing the topics of slavery and citizenship, as they developed in the United States and around the Atlantic, demonstrate the potential advantages of this broader perspective on US history. Although the field emphasizes the early modern era, legacies of Atlantic history pervade the modern world, and individuals and institutions continue to struggle to understand all of the ways these legacies shape legal, social, economic, cultural, and political practices in the first decades of the 21st century.

Article

The Historical Evolution of Canadian Living Standards  

Vincent Geloso

Canada is one of the richest countries in the world. It stands above most countries in the Americas. It is also noticeably poorer than its closest neighbor, the United States, despite considerable geographic similarity. These two facts have been true since as early as the 17th century. Why? An understanding of the historical path of Canada’s economic growth can be acquired by focusing on three important gaps in living standards within Canada: First Nations versus the rest of Canada, French Canadians versus English Canadians, and Atlantic Canada versus the rest of Canada. These three gaps allow an understanding of the crucial role of institutions in determining why Canada is rich on a global perspective and why it is poorer than the United States. However, explanations as to why Canada grew faster than Latin America are more speculative.

Article

An Environmental History of Brazil in the Nineteenth Century  

José Augusto Pádua

Brazil’s political imagination under the monarchy sought to associate the grandeur of its territory with an idealized image of the national state under construction. Whether they praised or deplored Brazil’s natural setting, representations of the establishment of an enormous country in the tropics tended to be generic and superficial. Some men of science, however, followed a more pragmatic path, seeking to understand Brazil’s environmental diversity and criticizing the destructive use of its natural resources. A significant effort was made to distinguish among the various types of forests and savannas found within Brazil’s borders. As regions developed at different rates of economic and demographic density, this variety of natural formations influenced their growth in complex ways. The interaction was marked by four basic modes of socioeconomic activity: export agriculture; agriculture to supply local markets; ranching; and the extraction of flora, fauna, and minerals. Each of these modes entailed environmental problems. For the elites who controlled the pace and direction of regional occupation, however, the immensity of the territory produced a sense of unlimited frontier and abundance that made any concern for the conservation or cautious management of natural resources appear unnecessary. Meanwhile, the growth of cities, with their attendant problems of insalubrity and access to water, opened up a cosmopolitan space for intellectual and scientific debates. Several environmental themes such as climatic determinism and the relationship between slave-based agriculture and the destruction of soils and forests figured prominently in the cultural and political concerns of that age.

Article

Trans-Atlantic Trade in African Captives, Enslaved Africans in the Americas, and the Industrial Revolution in England  

Joseph Inikori

The Industrial Revolution in England has remained the most debated subject in economic history. The debate has moved in a circle—the growth of trade (the “commercial revolution”), especially overseas trade, occupied the center stage of explanations from the nineteenth century to World War II; the pendulum shifted to inward-looking explanations between 1950 and the mid-1980s; the circle was completed in the late 1980s, when overseas trade began to be the dominant causal factor, once again. There was hardly any room for the contribution of the trans-Atlantic trade in African captives and the enslavement of Africans in the Americas in inward-looking explanations. Once it was convincingly demonstrated that inward-looking explanations are not consistent with historical reality, the contribution of enslaved Africans in the Americas to the growth of the Atlantic economy and the central role of the latter in the Industrial Revolution became realistically demonstrable. However, more recently, a fascinating argument based on British high wages and cheap energy (coal) appears to bring in a variant of the inward-looking arguments of decades ago through the back door. Comparative study of the evidence from England’s counties makes it abundantly clear the counties where the Industrial Revolution occurred (Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire, in particular) exploited their general poverty and initial low wages to capture the rapidly growing slave-based Atlantic economy (initially secured by British naval power and protected with mercantilist policies) at the expense of the erstwhile more developed southern counties, whose initial high wages may have worked against them. Cheap energy was not important in the eighteenth-century developments in the leading counties; its importance was to help sustain continuing growth in the nineteenth century.

Article

Christianity in Kongo  

Carlos Almeida

On the Atlantic coast of Africa, the Polity of Kongo, situated around the Congo River and to the south, constitutes a unique case of a secular lasting relationship with Christianity. In 1491, following Diogo Cão’s travels, Mwene Kongo Nzinga Nkuwu accepted the baptism offered him by the Portuguese priests. This set off a complex process of integration and appropriation of Christianity’s ritualistic and symbolic forms, accelerated, in particular, during the reign of Afonso Mvemba Nzinga (1504–1542). From the beginning, the incorporation of Christianity into Kongo resulted from an autonomous decision by local political leaders. The complicated process of cultural translation of the Christian theological world to the Kongo cosmology, heterogeneous and discontinuous, full of ambiguities and misunderstandings, depended on the active participation of members of the Kongo aristocracy who were sent to Portugal to study or trained locally in the precepts of the faith. Different religious orders established themselves in the region between the 15th and 19th centuries, Jesuits and Capuchins most prominent among them. In addition to countless reports and descriptions about the social reality of the region, some printed at the time, their presence resulted in a set of linguistic sources, including booklets, catechisms, and vocabularies that determine the way different concepts and rituals were translated into the Kongo frame of reference. Christianity and the related process of acquiring and using the written communication reinforced the tendency of the political entity for agglutination around its center Mbanza Kongo. At the same time, they opened a diplomatic channel that Kongo manipulated in order to counter the political, economic, and religious pressure of the Portuguese Crown and its colony in Luanda, and to defend its own sphere of interests on an Atlantic scale. After the fragmentation of the Kongo following the battle of Mbwila in 1665, Christianity, or at least the consolidated forms of its appropriation and the local agents of that process, continued to play a relevant political and social role, even when the presence of different European religious orders had become either scarce or virtually nonexistent. This pattern of establishing roots is well reflected in the successive prophetic movements that broke out throughout the 17th century, echoes of which were still visible at the turn of the 20th century, when new religious protagonists emerged on the scene. The voluminous and diversified documentary archive continues to raise important theoretical and methodological debates about the nature of the processes of appropriation, reframing, and cultural hybridity generated in the context of this historical relationship.

Article

Rice Cultivation in the History of Slavery  

Judith Carney

There are many wild rice species, but only two are domesticated. The most widely known is Asian rice, Oryza sativa. Domesticated in China approximately 10,000 years ago, it has been a primary staple in Asia for millennia, becoming by the 20th century one of the world’s most consumed cereals. Less known is Oryza glaberrima, or African rice, which was not recognized as a unique species until the mid-20th century. Glaberrima’s history begins not in Asia, but in the inland delta of West Africa’s Niger River, where it was domesticated some 3,500 years ago. Africans adapted glaberrima to a variety of landscapes and developed specialized farming practices that advanced its diffusion elsewhere in the continent, notably to wetland swamps and the tropical coastal region between Senegal and Cameroon. Cultivated there for millennia, African rice became (and still is) a principal dietary staple of West Africa. Women play a major role in rice cultivation. They plant, harvested, mill, and cook this important food crop. Since the so-called Age of Discovery, Oryza glaberrima has been entwined with the history of transatlantic slavery, which lasted from the mid-15th century to the last quarter of the 19th century. Over 400 years, nearly 13 million Africans were kidnapped and imprisoned on European slave ships bound for the Americas. Once landed, the survivors were sold as chattel labor to work colonial mines and plantations. Many had experience growing rice. African rice often accompanied slave voyages. As slave ships plied the West African coast, their captains purchased it in bulk to feed their captives during the weeks-long Middle Passage. Eventually, unmilled seed rice found its way from ships’ larders into the hands of New World Africans, who planted it in their provision gardens or maroon hideaways. By the end of the 17th century, plantation owners in Carolina (and later Brazil) were beginning to cultivate rice in response to rising demand from Europe. They very likely grew glaberrima at first—acquired as leftover slave ship provisions—and were almost certainly tutored by slaves already proficient at growing it. The development of rice as a lucrative export crop, cultivated on a massive scale in the tropical and semi-tropical swamps and tidewater estuaries of the Americas, is also a story of African agency and know-how. Nearly all the technologies employed on New World rice plantations bear African antecedents, from the irrigation systems that made fields productive, to the milling and winnowing of grain by African female labor wielding traditional African tools. The recovery of African rice history dispels long-held beliefs that Africans contributed little to the global table and added nothing more than muscle to the agricultural history of the Americas. It upends the myth that they only provided labor, existing as less-than-human “hands” that uncomprehendingly carried out slaveholder directives. Rice history has directed scholars to new geographical spaces, such as the provision gardens of the enslaved, while integrating contributions from archaeology, botany, geography, linguistics, and genomics. Not least, it gives to slavery’s victims a voice rarely heard in traditional sources.

Article

Akan Slavery in Africa and the Atlantic  

Pierluigi Valsecchi

Slavery was a macroscopic reality in the documentable historical itinerary of the Akan region of West Africa, both as a recognized institution existing in all the societies of the region up to the late 19th century and as a crucial component of its relationships with the outside world from the late 17th to the 19th century. During this phase, and although it lagged behind other parts of West Africa, the Akan region became also one of the most important exporting areas in the Atlantic slave trade. The condition of a slave until the end of the 19th century was generally the consequence of capture in war, judicial sentence, sale for debts, and so on. Akan societies distinguished between different degrees and types of slavery: prisoners of war, convicts sold into slavery, foreign slaves who were purchased, individuals enslaved for indebtedness, children of slave parents, and the like. These gradations corresponded to differences in treatment and could guarantee certain privileges. Many slaves suffered harsh exploitation, deprivation, and constant existential precariousness, while many others were instead immersed in a whole gamut of living and working conditions that bespoke of a more or less advanced integration into the host society, mainly operating through inclusion within the institutions of matrilineal kinship. Pawnship was another widespread institution of servitude that veered toward slavery but remained distinct from it, at least in principle, due to its temporary nature. The slaves who were shipped from the ports of the Akan region were called “Amina” (or “Mina”) or “Coromantee” in the Americas. These terms morphed into definitions of identity that the deported slaves themselves appropriated—whether or not they were of Akan origin—and that were largely based on common cultural traits originating primarily in the Akan world. The enslaved Amina/Mina and Coromantee left lasting marks on the history and culture of the black communities of several countries, especially in the Caribbean and Latin America and, to a lesser extent, in parts of North America too. A crucial reason was their role in slave insurrections and in the “Grand Maroonage,” that is, the establishment of stable communities of slaves who escaped from the plantations and eked out spaces of independence on the fringes of plantation society. The early 19th-century abolitions of the Atlantic slave trade caused a decline in slave exports, but the demand for enslaved labor grew within the Akan region itself. While for most of the 19th century, slavery experienced an overall growth, in various coastal centers, and in some areas of the Gold Coast, this same period saw the development of anti-slavery sentiment and strong abolitionist pressures. Later in the 19th century, the abolitionist legislations put in place as a result of the colonial occupation by Great Britain and France had some crucial effects. These laws recognized for the first time the fundamental right to freedom of bonded individuals by outlawing their subjection and providing them with effective and immediate legal instruments for claiming their freedom in colonial courts. In actual terms, however, the pace of change in the realm of subjection was very slow and, all in all, unsatisfactory with respect to the initial intentions of the anti-slavery legislation. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, there were still cases of individuals sold or pawned. Slavery and pawnship, in fact, survived for decades, notwithstanding profound changes in the economic and socio-political framework. That legacy is still very much present in the memory and discourse of Akan societies in the early 21st century.