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Seminar: Why was slavery abolished?

In this seminar, we will address a straight but profound question: why was slavery abolished in the Caribbean?

Seminar questions

  • In what ways is the thesis of Eric Williams about the abolition of Caribbean slavery an example of economic determinism?
  • What is 'econocide' and how does this idea challenge Eric Williams' explanation for the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies?
  • Outline the 'decline thesis' and explain its significance for understanding the abolition of slavery.

Required reading

Read Dresher's book:

Drescher, Seymour, Econocide: British Slavery in the Era of Abolition (Pittsburgh, 1977), esp. chapter 1.

And at least one of the following:

Sheridan, Richard, ‘Eric Williams and Capitalism and Slavery: A Biographical and Historiographical Essay’, in Barbara L. Solow and Stanley L. Engerman (eds), British Capitalism and Caribbean Slavery: The Legacy of Eric Williams (Cambridge, 1987).

Solow, Barbara L. and Stanley L. Engerman (eds), British Capitalism and Caribbean Slavery: The Legacy of Eric Williams (Cambridge, 1987), introduction.

Williams, Eric, Capitalism and Slavery (Chapel Hill, 1994; originally published 1944), esp. pp 154-177.

Further readings

Anstey, Roger, 'Capitalism and Slavery: A Critique', The Economic History Review, New Series, 21 (1968), pp. 307-320.

Draper, Nicholas, The price of emancipation: Slave-ownership, compensation and British society at the end of slavery (Cambridge, 2010).

Hilton, Boyd, ‘1807 and All That: Why Britain Outlawed Her Slave Trade’ in Derek R. Peterson (ed.), Abolitionism and Imperialism in Britain, Africa, and the Atlantic (Athens, 2010).

Knight, Franklin W., The Caribbean: The Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism (2nd edition, Oxford, 1990), pp. 159-192.

Robinson, C., ‘Capitalism, Slavery and Bourgeois Historiography’, History Workshop Journal, 23 (1987), pp 122-140.

Ryden, David, West Indian slavery and British abolition, 1783-1807 (Cambridge, 2010).

Tomich, Dale, ‘Econoide? From Abolition to Emancipation in the British and French Caribbean’ in Stephan Palmié and Francisco A. Scarano (eds), The Caribbean: A History of the Region and its Peoples (Chicago, 2011), pp. 303-316.

Special issue of Atlantic Studies on ‘Rethinking the Fall of the Planter Class’, volume 9 (2012).

See also Section 17 of Hilary Beckles and Verene Shepherd (eds), Caribbean Slavery in the Atlantic World: A Student Reader (London, 2000).