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Slave Empire


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About the Author

Dr Padraic X. Scanlan earned a BA (Hons) in History from McGill University in 2008, and a PhD in History from Princeton University in 2013. He is Assistant Professor in the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources and the Centre for Diaspora & Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto and a Research Associate at the Joint Centre for History and Economics at the University of Cambridge. He has also held appointments at the London School of Economics and Harvard University.


Engrossing and powerful . . . rich and thought-provoking. -- Fara Dabhoiwala * Guardian *
Slave Empire is lucid, elegant and forensic. It deals with appalling horrors in cool and convincing prose. * The Economist *
Path-breaking . . . a major rewriting of history. -- Mihir Bose * Irish Times *
Scanlan writes about how the antislavery movement became its own political and economic force: a moralising stance for an empire which continued to profit from the global network of unfree labour. Britain's mills, for example, still processed cotton from the American South long after the slave trade in its colonies was abolished. -- Katrina Gulliver, Spectator
Padraic X. Scanlan has written a sweeping and devastating history of how slavery made modern Britain, and destroyed so much else. Ranging from Europe to the Caribbean, from West Africa to the new United States, Scanlan narrates the rise and fall of Britain's slave empire with an epic concision and an unwavering humanity. He also reveals, with unprecedented clarity and power, how the antislavery movement in Britain largely failed to accept Black equality. When the British parliament finally voted to end slavery in 1833, it paid a fortune in compensation to slaveholders and not a penny to enslaved people. Britain continued to rely on slave-produced cotton (especially from the United States) for decades, while in its own empire it replaced slavery with new forms of coerced labour and racial hierarchy. Most Britons have learned to deny or forget that their wealth was rooted in slavery, while occasionally congratulating themselves on their moral achievement of no longer enslaving people. Slave Empire offers a shattering rebuke to the amnesia and myopia which still structure British history. -- Nicholas Guyatt, author of Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation
Padraic Scanlan is the leading historian of British antislavery in Africa. In Slave Empire, he tells the larger story of the British empire over two centuries, and sets slavery at the heart of political and economic history. The liberal empire of the nineteenth century, he shows, was the outcome of the long encounter of antislavery and economic expansion founded on enslaved or unfree labour. Antislavery was itself the excuse for empire. -- Emma Rothschild, Jeremy and Jane Knowles Professor of History, Harvard University
Scanlan's book is a fresh and fascinating new telling of the story of Britain's role in slavery and abolition in the Atlantic World. Slave Empire shows how an empire built on slavery became an empire sustained and expanded by antislavery. A stunning narrative, Slave Empire deftly combines rich storytelling with vivid details and deep scholarship. -- Bronwen Everill, author of Not Made By Slaves: Ethical Capitalism in the Age of Abolition
This accessible synthesis of recent scholarship comes at the right time to help shape current debates about Britain and slavery. -- Nicholas Draper, author of The Price of Emancipation: Slave-Ownership, Compensation and British Society at the End of Slavery
Scanlan writes about how the antislavery movement became its own political and economic force: a moralising stance for an empire which continued to profit from the global network of unfree labour. Britain's mills, for example, still processed cotton from the American South long after the slave trade in its colonies was abolished. -- Katrina Gulliver * Spectator *
Powerful, often devastating, always compelling. * All About History *
Freedom's Debtors interweaves a remarkably broad array of historical themes common to studies of abolition and post-emancipation societies, including contemporary notions of race and civilization, the tension between morality and profitability, and conflicts over land and labour. Scanlan does this remarkably well, in smooth, clear prose and with a keen eye for rich anecdotes and illustrations. These features, along with Scanlan's mastery of the sources and literature, make this book essential reading, not just for Africanists but for anyone interested in antislavery and abolition. -- Sean M. Kelley, Slavery & Abolition
Freedom's Debtors offers a much-needed account of how British abolitionist principles were developed and applied in West Africa . . . Scanlan's study emphasises how British and other non-African actors developed and profited from new forms of coercive labor as a result of the abolition of the slave trade . . . Scanlan's book provides a strong foundation for exploring the connections between the 'abolitionist' laws and policies imposed on Sierra Leone's 'Liberated Africans' and those that were applied to other imperial subjects during this dynamic time of ideological revolution and global expansion. -- Trina Leah Hogg, Journal of African History
Padraic Scanlan has not only written an excellent book on Sierra Leone, he has produced one of the most important books ever written on Liberated Africans . . . Freedom's Debtors is essential reading . . . Scanlan powerfully re-centres our understanding of abolitionism and forces us to re-examine its immediate and long-term effects in Africa. -- Matthew S. Hopper, Journal of British Studies
Based on exhaustive research within British missionary and personal papers as well as documents in the Sierra Leone archives, [Freedom's Debtors] . . . breaks conceptual ground and charts a new historiographical direction. Scanlan makes connections between the logic of capitalism and its intersection with colonialism and slavery. He demonstrates how British West Africa was enmeshed with economic systems at a global level and by taking the focus away from Europe, he challenges the prevailing narratives of abolitionism and colonialism. His argues convincingly that without slavery, without colonial 'outposts', capitalism and freedom might have evolved differently. This compelling book makes a huge contribution to our understanding of the processes which led to abolition but has wider implications for the historiography and the paradigms that inform it. * Canadian Historical Association *
Freedom's Debtors is timely, original, and lucid. Its analysis of the political, economic, and cultural forces that shaped the development of Sierra Leone challenges celebratory narratives about the abolition of the slave trade and offers a new account of life in this British colony. Padraic Scanlan's attention to the agency of West Africans and to 'British antislavery in practice' makes this work an important contribution to our understanding of the nature and locus of Atlantic history. * American Historical Association *

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