Introduction to 2008 Compilation and to the Database*

Popular and academic fascination with enslavement in the human experience grows apace with the ongoing politics of race, extended recently to international publicity for the violation of fundamental human rights in resurgent “contemporary slavery” around the world.  More speculatively, the existential isolation of living in a modern global culture of individual mobility in pursuit of economic gain, or – for most – elemental survival may resonate.

Since publication of the last (and final) print version of this bibliography, including some 14,248 titles, the rate of publication on slavery has increased in volume, and not entirely because of continuing expansion of the regions covered.  Interest in the inhumanity of bondage, captivity, and slavery has expanded significantly in literary and other humanistic academic disciplines.

Numbers of Publications in the Database, By Decade


The annual listings included in the database for the last five years (2000-04) have been relatively steady in an annual range of 1100-1200 titles, nearly half again as many as during the preceding five years (700-800 titles/year), and double the rate of the preceding half decade. Global electronic communications, significant funding of major academic research centers dedicated to the study of slavery and abolition1, a wave of academic conferences2, mushrooming international concern with contemporary slaving, and the 2007-08 bicentennial of the abolition of British slave trading and imports of slaves into the United States have all contributed to the growing rate of scholarly production.  Internet search capacities have matured since 2005 and are raising the rate of titles identifiable for each annual supplement now to 1500-1700.  Through 2006 it was possible to cite most academic websites on the subject and to note digital versions of works originally distributed in print format, but on-line resources have proliferated since then at rates that preclude continuing coverage, while at the same time internet search engines have become so efficient that listing here is becoming superfluous.

After the initial studies integrating the still relatively limited scholarship on slavery in sociological and anthropological terms3, world wide, as noted in previous discussions of the bibliography of slavery, the strategy of preference for presenting the great diversity of the proliferating literature on the subject has centered on encyclopedias, handbooks, guides, “dictionaries”, and other compilations4. The subject appears also to have achieved academic standing worthy of inclusion in the hallowed series of “Cambridge Histories”5. The principal recent syntheses are a single global sociological analysis and a historical analysis of modern Atlantic slavery6. Other synthetic efforts have revolved around conferences, some with published proceedings7.

In very broad terms, the modern empirically based study of slavery began as legal history, at a moment of rising nationalism in the late nineteenth century when civil laws, in all their variety, had replaced the universality of Natural Law as the primary framework for thinking about human affairs8. Political solutions to slavery as a social “problem” replaced problematization of a personal relationship in terms of natural law and ancient (Mediterranean) examples. The early reflections accordingly carried on the preceding generation’s – the last contending slaveholders and abolitionists – focus on ancient Greece and Rome, with attention also to Hebrew Bible times. Classical examples claimed as relevant suddenly became safely remote from the turmoil of recent emancipations in the older European colonies and in the United States. Growing European imperial conquests and political incorporation elsewhere in the world, moralized in terms of abolishing the slaving continuing among the “savage”, as well as by Muslims, carried the implicitly legal framework of thinking with it into modern ethnography-based research. For the generation preceding World War I ongoing modern slavery was too much a current concern to be treated with plausible semblance of scholarly objectivity; it remained a political problem, not an academic one. Many of the works from that era included in the bibliography thus straddled the diffuse line between products of serious inquiry and outright tracts, marshalling the one or the other in support of its complement. The classic inaugural work composed in a scholarly vein in the United States, U. B. Phillips’ American Negro Slavery (1918), appeared to most of its post-World-War-II liberal detractors more as partisan defense than as scholarly in its treatment of the subject. In Europe international anti-slavery campaigns focused on conditions in the colonies, particularly in Africa.

In the two decades between the two world wars in the United States, the Journal of Negro History was a principal, though subtle, vehicle for presenting slavery as a subject worthy of scholarly attentions. The mainstream academy took little systematic notice. A number of subsequently classic names in the field launched the historical study of slavery almost as an afterthought, without focusing analytically on the systemic characteristics of the “institution”, apparently take for granted by all as understood, including Helen Catterall, Elizabeth Donnan, and Melville Herskovits. The prominent intellectual frameworks included the quiet and extremely professional activism of the JNH and Aptheker’s implicit socialist commitment. Catterall and Donnan were the most accomplished representatives of a small number of works by professional historians, largely in a technical vein presenting the issue in terms of single documents that had turned up in archives, or vast collections of them, but without any particular sense that they were laying the foundations for what would, in the 1950s, emerge as a coherent scholarly “field”. Most of these scholars – often local historians, sometimes tending toward antiquarianism – were simply presenting curiosities, though – in retrospect – they identified documents key to many later studies. In the era of “Jim Crow” and the Ku Klux Klan, with living memories of slavery still tangible, discretion must also have muted the voices of all but the most daring of these courageous pioneers.

Cultural anthropologists in Hispanic America and a few direct heirs to the cultures of the enslaved there faced fewer cultural and political barriers and began to draw on the vast documentary corpus of Spanish colonial rule to identify the Africans, many of them enslaved, obviously present in their national histories, particularly in Cuba and in Mexico. Though race lay no less deeply embedded in the origins of scholarly study of slavery there than in the United States, scholarship emphasized African cultural contributions rather than the social and political exclusions of “slavery as an institution”.

Scholars in the Netherlands and its West Indian colonies were early contributors to the creation of a coherent field of inquiry in the Caribbean region, though usually writing in Dutch. Melville and Frances’ Herskovits’ seminal works on Suriname were the tip of the historical iceberg visible above the troubled surface of the deep-running currents of race in the English-speaking academic world. Compared to the voluminous later work on the British West Indies, the work on slavery in the Caribbean region in these decades was not large in quantity and tended to emerge from conventional imperial political and economic history. Eric Williams’ later paradigmatic 1936 Oxford D. Phil. thesis thus turned the dominant British scholarship of the era quite directly on its head. Whereas the economic aspects of the institution had not been prominent in the initial phases of modern scholarship on slavery, in spite of Nieboer’s initial effort to frame the issue in broadly economic terms of land, labor, and capital, they were emerging as the leading theoretical framework within which Anglophone scholars approached the institution.

In Brazil, struggling to assimilate the overwhelmingly evident African heritage of the Americas’ newest republic into a national identity respectable in an age of rampant racism, the subject of slavery generated little interest. Even in the 1930s, the first generation to mature with no memory of slavery (which had been abolished only in 1888), Gilberto Freyre’s paradigmatic Casa grande e senzala (1933) and then the assembling of the founding fathers of Afro-Brazilian studies at the first Congresso Afro-Brasileiro in 1934 focused on an inclusive, pluralistic national culture. But, as in the Hispanic nations, the subject was framed more as “slaves”, that is the contributions and initiatives of the Africans who had arrived there in slavery, than about “slavery” as the “institution” lurking in the ethnology of the era and in the Anglophone scholarship, for better (U. B. Phillips’ plantation as “school”) or for worse (Aptheker on oppression and revolt, Williams as a system of economic exploitation). In the United States, the stirrings of interest in slavery blended all but indistinguishably with race, and the New World’s largest recipient of slaves from Africa entered the scholarly literature to portray Brazil as a relative “racial paradise”, compared favorably and pointedly with North America9.

A surprising number of other world regions – China, Siam, Islam, India – entered the foundational literature on slavery in this era through early anthropological interests – E. B. Tylor, Lewis Henry Morgan and others – in comparative law. In Africa, where colonial regimes were then still struggling to reduce practices of “indigenous slavery” and were also wary of international inquiries into their own labor practices, the subject was barely broached, mostly by amateur missionary ethnographers. The professional anthropological community, essentially colonial ethnographers, systematically obscured anomalous behavior, like slaving, beneath the surface coherence of “societies” analyzed in terms of norms derived from their teachers’ interest in norms and ideals treated as “law”. The ongoing international campaign against slavery, extended under League of Nations sponsorship to other forms of compelled labor, worldwide, generated a steady stream of reports, some of scholarly quality, on labor practices, including ones in in Ethiopia condemned as slavery. The preceding generation’s imperialist/abolitionist condemnation of Muslim slaving provoked several studies of the legalities of the practice under Islam.

The 1940s were the formative decade for the modern field of slavery studies, in the sense that academics began to develop the analytical stances on “slavery as an institution” that led to the subsequent classic formulations by political economist and classicist Moses Finley (1964) and sociologist Orlando Patterson (1982). The intellectual construction of “slavery” as primarily a legal system thus emerged as an extension of the abolitionist and early sociological (including Nieboer) understanding of it as an “institution” subject to termination by the legal regimes of national civic governments, coinciding with extensions of this concept of societal entities to other parts of the world by the contemporaneous inaugural generation of jural anthropologists. The parallel structuralism of political economists, Marxist-inspired in that era, posed no challenge to this construction of what it was that students of “slavery” studied. Nor, in the Americas, where similarly legally institutionalized “race” or its structural cultural correlates in Latin countries blended no less seamlessly with the enslavement of Africans, would a conceptual challenge emerge. It was the sociological generation.

That is, the conceptual basis of the explosive growth of slavery as a subject of Anglophone academic analysis saw the subject as an abstraction, largely from the ideological perspective of the slavers, creators of the “societal norms” that excluded and derided the enslaved, and the “laws” through which they enforced these exclusions. The experiences of the enslaved were barely imagined, and, when touched on, they were seen in ways derived from this structured perspective of passivity before the institutions of the law, not examined independently of, nor turning to evidence not part of this legal framework. The lingering echoes of U. B. Phillips’ characterization of the U.S. southern plantation as a “school” for culture-less primitives had already provoked Melville and Frances Herskovits to assert the complexity of African culture(s) and the “survival” of elements of them in the southern Americas, though researched primarily in remote settlements of ex-slaves who had escaped the de-culturating pressures of plantation discipline. It was thus only logical, for want of scholarly evidence to the contrary, to locate the primary activity of the enslaved in “resistance” to the utter oppression presumed; scholars’ images of the enslaved remained trapped in the self-fulfilling prophecies of their research, which runs a significant risk of turning up no less, and no more, than what researchers set out to look for. Theoretical Marxist-derived hypotheses of resistance and “revolution” were the primary sources then at hand for imagining activity on the parts of the enslaved, other than stubborn preservation of fragments of their African pasts, and these were even less imaginable to an academy broadly suspicious of anything smacking of “socialism”, national (fascist) or international (communist). In the Hispanic Americas and in Brazil the accent on African-derived cultures played a similarly restorative role for those enslaved there, though one hardly more noticeable to the national academic establishments. The assimilative role for African cultures that Freyre asserted for Afro-Brazilians in a multi-racial – or non-racialized – Brazil contrasted with the relatively autonomous functions assigned to them in Hispanic nations acknowledging the ethnic complexity of their composite national identities largely in terms of the relationships between Hispanic leadership and the Native American ancestries assigned to their populations.

In the United States, the name of John Hope Franklin began to appear in print during World War II. At the same time (1944) Richard Hofstadter critiqued U. B. Phillips’ still authoritative American Negro Slavery (1918), as what he called the “plantation legend”. The civil-rights movement asserted the presence and value of the people then still known as “negroes” also in terms of the prevailing concept of slavery as primarily a legal institution, though its target was not slavery itself but rather the post-emancipation framework of racist “Jim Crow” legislation and administrative and judicial complicity. The threads of race and slavery intricately interwoven in the prevailing sociological fabric of the “institution” thus distracted the founding academic generation of students of slavery with post-World-War-II liberal concerns about contemporary racism in the United States. With an English translation of Freyre’s vision of a culturally assimilated African-descended population in Brazil (1946), Frank Tannenbaum’s Slave and Citizen (1947) translated the cultural expressions of social and economic differentiation in Latin America into the racial terms prevailing in the United States.

With “slavery” conceptually frozen as a social and legal “institution” transcending times and places, and racial distinctions biologized no less rigidly and divisively, the intellectual road to political reconciliation after World War II required historicizing both. Tannenbaum essentially took the racial dilemma of the United States as structural and attempted to move beyond cultural (and national) differences by historicizing the issue of race – but not slavery – as a matter of mechanical timing, speculating on whether Brazil’s longer experience of inter-racial engagement (and correspondingly longer experience of slavery, extended culturally to antecedents in late-medieval Iberia) foretold a similarly less divided future for the United States, though on a time-scale demarcated in centuries. Oscar and Mary Handlin proposed an historical approach to separating race from slavery by wondering in 1950 which might have led to the other, by trying to see which had appeared first in the originary core of the United States in seventeenth-century Virginia. They also definitively tilted the conceptual field away from legal institutions toward economic history by terming slavery in the U.S. “the southern labor system”.

Economics, a culturally and racially neutral space subject to behavioralist laws of “the market” that transcended civic laws of prejudiced human creation, thus became the bridge to the scholarship of the 1960s and 1970s, as always, for better and for worse. This liberal faith in economics allowed Kenneth Stampp to break through to the first systematic consultation of plantation records and the literature of agricultural history since Phillips to attempt to understand the workers enslaved on ante-bellum southern plantation as just that, “white men in black skins” subject to arbitrary and exploitive employers. Drawing on the authority of eighteenth-century political economists and a host of abolitionist doubters about the efficiency of slavery as an economic institution in the nineteenth century, Stampp thus condemned the South’s Peculiar Institution (1956) – and soon, by extension by others, to slaves on plantations almost anywhere in the world – as inefficient, a hindrance to economic progress. The good news was that it was thus also subject to a kind of Darwinian economic extinction by the brutally benevolent “invisible hand of the market”. The seemingly fortunate outcome of this economistic logic paralleled the evolutionary sequence from (ancient) slavery (through feudalism) to triumphal capitalism proposed by political economists and thus opened discussion of the increasingly theorized “institution” to attempts to draw on Marxist-derived analyses of “modes or production”, which Sir Moses Finley’s 1964 contribution to the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences extended to most of human history. His influential distinction between “slave societies” and “societies with slaves” epitomized the ongoing highly structural – essentially sociological – terms of academic understanding of “slavery as an institution”.

Economists, taking “free wage labor” as normative, created a persisting parallel, but negatively conceptualized, categorization of “unfree – or coerced – labor systems”, classing slavery with a logically and historically unrelated set of abstract alternatives, including – depending on the analyst – serfdom, corvée, debt peonage, caste, indenture, and any other relationship construed as “forced”, but excluding the compulsory aspects of having to earn one’s living through wages offered at the discretion of employers in control of access to money.

Stanley Elkins then attempted to bring the distinctive experience of the enslaved within this formative framework of understanding Slavery [as] A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life (1959). The oppressive conditions of plantation discipline appeared to him as morally and psychologically ruinous as the horrors of German concentration camps, emblematic of dehumanization to the post-World-War II generation of intellectuals. This humanistic approach echoed other liberal currents in North American sociology that attempted to interpret increasingly obvious and continuing differences between the mid-twentieth-century social positions of the two races in terms other than biological deficiencies attributed to “negroes”. The blame fell, as it had fallen implicitly also in Tannenbaum, on the heavy burden of slavery, from which subsequent emancipated generations in the United States had not (yet) recovered; apparently only (a rather mechanistic) time would tell.

The accelerating and increasingly animated discussions of slavery in the United States drew on the theorized disciplines in its academic heritage, primarily sociology and psychology, essentially attempting to distinguish the effects of “nature” and “nurture” in terms of several policy proxies. The destructive legacy of institutionalized (legal) slavery’s violation of the integrity of the family stood in as an inhibiting sociological equivalent of race, a sociological straitjacket only slightly less indelible through the generations than genetics. Eugene Genovese questioned Elkins’ dismissal of the possibility of “rebelliousness … in the [assumed docile] Negro slave” in 1967, tapping Marxist political economy in ways much more elaborate than Aptheker’s activist scholarship. An emergent generation of social historians working – among other techniques – with African-American folklore, escalated The Debate over Slavery (Ann Lane, ed., 1971) even further. Culture, particularly religion, was imported from the literature on the southern Americas to assert the creativity of the enslaved, even under the profoundly destructive conditions of residually racialized American Negro Slavery, to cite a characteristic title of the readers that publishers, recognizing a politicized field of profitable academic potential, began to assemble in the early 1970s from previously scattered scholarship. The array of academic disciplines summoned to bring the enslaved into scholarly treatments of “slavery” was growing, and nearly every current in the agitated politics of the 1960s and 1970s poured into the subject of slavery.

The introductions to the 1986 and 1993 printed bibliographies touch on other levels of the subsequent historiography, until the eve of the so-called “cultural turn”. The central thrust of the booming scholarship on slavery throughout the world – including ancient times – has been to replicate the patterns based both factually and in terms of highly racialized politics on the quite anomalous institutionalization of legally defined slavery under the U. S. Constitution, as it developed in a profoundly commercialized – or capitalist – environment in the ante-bellum South. It is understandable that pioneering scholars working on other parts of the world, seeking ways to make sense of new evidence on a previously unknown subject, turn first to models familiar in the literature. In the case of slavery, this strategy of understanding the novel by analogy with the seemingly familiar has proceeded smoothly, since it flowed through inherited understandings of “slavery as an institution” – generic, sociological, or economic – quite abstracted from its multifold particular manifestations in varying contexts throughout the world’s history, not to mention the infinitely particular experiences of the individuals enslaved. In a phrase, slavery developed as a field of academic study through the disciplinary lenses of the social sciences, and it has flourished in the last thirty years primarily by replicating this quite specific, and abstract, understanding into even previously unsuspected corners of the world.

Noteworthy among recent regional concentrations of scholarship are late medieval and early modern Iberia – Portugal, Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, and the early sugar islands of the eastern Atlantic – Madeira, the Canaries. South Asia, where scholars met the expectations of those seeking evidence of “unfree labor” and social exclusion long emphasized “caste” and ignored slavery, is becoming a revealing presence in the literature. It is also part of a broader consolidation of general academic interest in maritime spaces, primarily “the Atlantic”, but extending also into the long history of slaving in the Indian Ocean region. In the Americas, scholars in nearly every Spanish speaking nation have turned to recovering their African and Afro-descendiente heritages, with particular energy in Central America, Colombia, and Venezuela, as well as in the older centers in Cuba, Brazil, and Mexico. Brazilian institutions of higher education proliferated in the 1990s and 2000s, producing a virtual explosion of scholarly examination of that nation’s richly documented slave past comparable in scale – and perhaps also in politics – to the simultaneous and pace-setting expansion – and opening to diversity – in education and studies of slavery in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. Slavery in Africa, a significant presence in the study of slavery since the early 1970s in its “pre-colonial” history, has now been traced into colonial-era and contemporary times, merging in this latter respect with working on contemporary or modern slavery, the subject’s newest and fastest-growing subfield.

Work on slavery in Mediterranean antiquity – ancient Greece and Rome – has continued imaginatively within the methodologically strict confines of working responsibly with the limited sources available in this challenging field. Roman law no longer dominates, but studies and restudies of familiar sources – texts, with a certain concentration around Paul’s letters – and explorations of epigraphy and archaeology for what they might reveal about the slaves now accepted as pervasive. The Groupe International de Recherche sur l’Esclavage dans l'Antiquité (GIREA) holds large annual conferences around themes, which have tended to focus on topics derived from social history generally – including the family, captivity, and women. The self-reflexivity of post-modern scholarship has produced studies on “representation”, “metaphor”, “literary imagination”, “conceptions”, “fear”, and “conceptions” of slaves. There has been no integrated survey of slavery for over ten years, as the field has broken down the previous stereotyped (male) slave into much more refined categories – women and children among them – as it has tested its sources against questions arising in studies of modern slavery.

The Atlantic slave trade has remained a vital focus, owing primarily to the consolidation of four decades of multi-national research on its quantitative aspects, following on Philip Curtin’s The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (1969). David Eltis and a small host of collaborators extended this search for quantifiable data on slaving voyages of interest to governments around the Atlantic (tax, surveillance, and other regulatory records) and published the consolidated information on more than 27,000 individual vessels carrying slavery across the Atlantic in CD-ROM format in 1999. They have subsequently located information on an additional 8,000 voyages, increased the total quantity of voyage information by approximately 40%, and launched (December 2008) the resulting database in a readily accessible on-line format10. Works on Atlantic slaving have risen steadily in numbers, though not as fast as the rate of expansion elsewhere in the field; as percentages of the contents of the database, they have fallen from 9.3% between 1900 and 1991 to 7.5% from 1992 through 1996 to 6.8% in the nine years from 1997 through 2005.

The resulting, ever more refined, quantitative studies of the database have framed significant new directions in the study of the cultures of slavery in the New World, as quite specific links between specific regions of origin in Africa and correspondingly specific regions of resettlement in the Americas have become clearer. The intellectual structure of these discussions tends to retain the structural parameters of its more generic “African” antecessors but refined to (no less reified) specific “cultures” and “ethnic” communities, centering on the Herskovitsian issue of the extent to which captives from Africa were able to “retain” their African identities or lost them in the chaos of enslavement, leaving them subject to processes vaguely described in terms of the American elements in their outcomes as “creolization”. More promising is a sophisticated tapping of the recent flowing of studies in several disciplines of collective “memory” and processes of memorialization.

Also promising is a separate flowering of biographies of the enslaved. This prospect was all but unimaginable within the framework of anonymity presumed by earlier generations of scholars focused on structures and implicitly all-but-homogenous aggregates of passive slaves. However, ever more detailed research is now producing a growing awareness of the diversity of individual experiences even of the Middle Passage, not to mention adventurous lives under the arbitrary transfers to which the enslaved were subject as they were sold from hand to hand throughout the Atlantic world. The paradigmatic figure in this field is Equiano, self-proclaimed “African” and ultimately prominent English abolitionist, whose Interesting Narrative is proving of seemingly unending interest to scholars of both literary and historical persuasions. The lives of a half dozen other Africans have been developed at book length (as of early 2010), and fragments of the lives of hundreds of others are being compiled. Scattered details about enslaved persons numbering in the high 10,000s are already accessible on line and are moving rapidly into the range of 100,000s11. A corresponding initiative from a new generation of descendents of the enslaved, farther from the pervasive shame associated by their grandparents and great-grandparents in most of the twentieth century with all but unspeakably “bad old times”, has opened new genealogical approaches to the experience. An evidential basis is being laid to move the study of slavery from the aggregated anonymity of its development as a subject of the social sciences, with the enslaved primarily as objects of their masters’ intentions, toward articulate agents, understood humanistically.

The growth in biographical research extends throughout the Americas, from Brazil to Canada, not only as humanized phrasings of the conventional sociological and cultural aggregates but also as studies of individuals and families. Thus in the United States, the most recent surveys shift the subject from abstracted “slavery”, only roughly differentiated by timing and by region, to the searing experience of Americanization by racialization12, moving on to the individuated agonies, Soul by Soul, and the destruction of family Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market13, and the similarly family-defined challenges and triumphs of surviving and maintaining connections through Generations of Captivity14. This humanizing current is gathering further strength through digitized access to a large percentage ofr the known corpus of known ante-bellum U.S. slave narratives15, with dozens of reprint editions, web postings, and biographical studies appearing each year. This productively humanizing transition has gained momentum particularly from the contributions of literary critics, who have brought insightful new readings to texts known to preceding generations but utilized only within the epistemological limits of the social sciences. In comparative terms, this experiential interpretation of enslavement (and also of the enslavers) is repositioning a field seen previously in terms of labor and laws also in relation to captivity, salvation, religious creativity and congregation, and the culture of isolation and terror. Historians of art, architectural historians, musicologists and other students of human creativity are adding their rich new perspectives on materials formerly mined for abstracted “culture” or “folklore”, finding in them instead evidence of experience, and of the masters as well as of the enslaved.

In Latin America these currents are gaining particular strength from new uses made of the copious incidents in the lives of enslaved individuals, often named, available in notarial, parish, police, judicial, census, registry and other records previously consulted mostly to develop statistical aggregates or to attempt to read the names as indicators of aggregate identities16. Although classicists have long worked in conventional categorizing ways with the names of enslaved individuals found in epigraphs and other inscriptions, extensions of the emerging biographical approach to enslavement to the much less documented regions of the world beyond the Americas will inevitably be limited. However, the productivity of consulting similar judicial and police records has already been demonstrated eloquently in the Ottoman and other parts of the Islamic world17. Colonial records in British India, Dutch southeastern Asia, the “protectors of slaves” appointed in the last years of slavery in the British colonies in South Africa and the West Indies, Portuguese Africa, German colonial Africa, and elsewhere in the colonial world of the twentieth century have all been exploited to similarly humanizing effect. The “cultural turn” has inspired an increasing number of studies of popular perceptions of enslavement in Africa and of subsequent memorializations of the experience in the Americas, and increasingly also elsewhere in the world.

These several modes of humanizing enslavement as experience are thus – finally, some might add – bringing the slaves into a field that originated implicitly in the documented perspectives of the slavers. Foundational academic analysts continued the critical characterization of slavery – not to say also its neo-abolitionist caricaturization for the urgent political purposes of the nineteenth century – as an “institution”, including the people enslaved mostly by attributing to them notions derived from the masters’ objectives of dominating aggregated crowds of anonymous “slaves”. Their voices, incidental moments in their lives, their ingenuity and creative opportunism, as well as their sorrows and loneliness, now are replacing derivative agency as only single-dimensioned “rebellion”.

Finally, in terms of the intellectual development of the field as of this writing, humanization of the enslaved may open the door also to humanizing the masters. The logic of the social sciences works by distinguishing categories, contrastively. In the politicized environment in which studies of slavery emerged, sociological categorization worked well along these lines, contrasting classes, races, legal rights, economic welfare, demographic experiences, and – seemingly – every other available parameter of disabling differentiation, seemingly documenting, over and over, the abolitionist critiques of the eighteenth and nineteen centuries. Scholars converted their own liberal cultural heritage into the initial sociological formulation of academic studies of slavery through the incremental intellectual steps sketched here, as they emerge from scanning the entire bibliography of the field presented in this database. But the humanistic disciplines evoke universal human creativity, unifying slaves, masters, and their descendants in both triumphs and tragedies, and with no small sense of the ironies of history and personal limitations on the parts of everyone. Recent family prosopographies in the United States, seemingly ever-emblematic of the field as a whole, are transcending even the American sociological dilemma of racial division to proclaim An American Family: Black and White18. The isolated master-slave dyad at the core of “slavery as an institution”, derived from Hegel’s classic early-nineteenth-century historicization, at the dawn of what became an age of abolition and emancipation, and maintained through the social-scientific necessity of isolating “variables” to test them comparatively, is being contextualized and historicized. Intellectual integration, rather than opposing master to slave and then abstracting the pairing from the participants, may be opening the door to yet another round of scholarly creativity in understanding a field that refuses to exhaust itself. Slavery, enslavement, and slaving involve elemental aspects of the human experience, subject to fascinating revelations when viewed through the growing number of lenses of academic disciplines now invoked, numbering easily in the dozens. 19

Joseph C. Miller
Ivy, Virginia
February 2010


*  With thanks to Calvin Schermerhorn and Scot A. French for comments on an earlier draft of this essay.

* Slightly revised in phrasing and omitting references to the numbered format of the original print version.

  1.   Gilder-Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition (Yale University,;  Harriett Tubman Centre (York University,;  Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation (University of Hull,; Institute for the Study of Slavery (University of Nottingham,

    European centers and institutes are increasing in numbers and activities.  The venerable Groupe International de Recherche sur l’Esclavage dans l'Antiquité (GIREA, Université de France-Comte, continues to produce works on ancient slavery from scholars primarily based in France, Italy, and Spain.

    In Germany, the Forschungsgruppe zur antiken Sklaverei of the Mainz Academy of Science and Literature [Mainzer Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur] continues its Forschungen zur antiken Sklaverei [Studies in Ancient Slavery] series, and the Graduiertenkollegs – Sklaverei, Knechtschaft und Frondienst-Zwangsarbeit at the Universität Trier (; in English,

    France has seen the establishment of several centers and agencies since passage in 2001 of national  law mandating memorialization of slavery “en tant que crime contre l’humanité”, including the official Comité pour la Mémoire de l’Esclavage (;  academic centers include the Centre International de Recherches sur les Esclavages. Acteurs, Systèmes, Representations (CIRESC, in the Centre Nacional de Recherches Scientifiques/CNRS, since 2005,, with partnerships in the Université de Bordeaux, the Université des Antilles et de la Guyane, Université de Paris VII, and the Université Cheikh Anta Diop [Senegal]). Also see the Centre d’etudes des Anneaux de la Memoire (Nantes,, the Académie de Paris - Centre Régional de Documentation Pédagogique (, and the Projet de Recherche Innovant (PRI) de la Sorbonne-Paris,  Centre de Recherches Caraïbes-Amériques (CERCAM), and others.

    In the United Kingdom, the International Center for the Study of Slavery is active at the University of Nottingham  (

    UNESCO has a major international “Slave Route/Route des Esclaves/Ruta dos Escravos” project that has been intermittently active since 1993 (, with a several national committees and projects, some of them academic in tone.

    Also see “Slave Trade, Slavery, Abolitions and their Legacies in European Histories and Identities (EURESCL)”, “a project funded under the Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities of the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission.  EURESCL intends to locate the slave trade and slavery in the history of the construction of the European identity” –

    With thanks to Stephen Hodkinson and Miriam Cottias for confirmation of details presented in this note.

  2. Counting only conferences focused on slavery (and not panels and presentations at occasions more broadly conceived), those in the bibliography number 16 in 2000, 15 in 2001, 12 each in 2002 and 2003, 20 each in 2004, 2005, and 2006.
  3. Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1982);  Claude Meillassoux, Anthropologie de l’esclavage: le ventre de fer et d’argent (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1986), translated (Alide Dasnois) as The Anthropology of Slavery: The Womb of Iron and Gold( (with a foreword by Paul E. Lovejoy) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.
  4. Junius P. Rodriguez, ed., The Historical Encyclopaedia of World Slavery (2 vols.) (Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 1997);  Paul Finkelman and Joseph C. Miller, eds., Macmillan Encyclopedia of World Slavery (2 vols.) ( New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998);  Seymour Drescher and Stanley L. Engerman, eds., A Historical Guide to World Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998);  Kevin Bales, New Slavery: A Reference Handbook (Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 2000);  Junius P. Rodriguezs, ed., Chronology of World Slavery (Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 2000);  Stanley Engerman, Seymour Drescher, and Robert Paquette, eds., Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001);  Martin A. Klein, Historical Dictionary of Slavery and Abolition (Lanham MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002), and slightly abridged as The A to Z of Slavery and Abolition (Lanham MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002);  Junius P. Rodriguez, ed., Encyclopedia of Emancipation and Abolition in the Transatlantic World (Armonk NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2007)The classics community, often somewhat separated from the academic disciplines involved in the study of modern slavery, have produced bibliographies and plan a dictionary:  Akademie der Wissenschaften und Literatur in Mainz, Forschungsgrjuppe zur antike Sklaverei, Bibliographie zur antiken Sklaverei (2003), extended from the previous edition (1986) by Dorothea Schäfer and Johannes Deißler.  Also a Handwoerterbuch der antiken Sklaverei (Concise Dictionary of Ancient Slavery (in preparation)
  5. David Eltis and Stanley Engerman, general eds., Cambridge History of Slavery (4 vols.) (New York Cambridge University Press, in preparation).
  6. Alain Testart, L’esclave, la dette et le pouvoir: études de sociologie comparative (Paris: Errance, 2001);  Michael Zeuske, Sklaven und Sklaverei in den Welten des Atlantiks 1400-1940: Umrisse, Anfänge, Akteure, Vergleichsfelder und Bibliographien (Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2006).
  7. The centers listed in note 1 have been the principal sponsors of such conferences and eventual volumes;  see the websites for details.  In addition Gwyn C. Campbell convened a productive series of wide ranging conferences as the Colloque avignonnais sur l’Esclavage et la Main-d’œuvre forcé/Avignon Conference on Slavery and Forced Labour (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004);  the series now continues under the auspices of the Indian Ocean World Centre at McGill University (Montreal) (
  8. For the intellectual perspective of an ethnologist on the field in 1900, see H. J. Nieboer, Slavery as an Industrial System: Ethnological Researches (The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1900), critiquing earlier sociologists as theoretical; &sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=5&ct=result#PPR3,M1
  9. Anticipating both Freyre and Tannenbaum:  Herbert B. Alexander, “Brazilian and United States Slavery Compared,” Journal of Negro History, 7, 4 (1922),  pp. 349-64
  10. “Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database” (
  11. Led by the extraordinary compilation in Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, ed., Databases for the Study of Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy, 1699-1860 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999), with 90,330 individual records.  Compare the earlier aggregative approach in, for example, George P. Rawick, ed., The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography (19 vols.) (Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1972).

    Internationally, see the “Ecclesiastical Sources in Slave Societies” under the leadership of Jane Landers at Vanderbilt University,

    A parallel initiative is under way at Emory University, based on the individuated records of 160,000 captive Africans liberated by the Courts of Mixed Commission (Rio de Janeiro, Havana, Sierra Leone, and elsewhere) developed to suppress Atlantic slaving between 1819 and 1871.
  12. Michael A. Gomez, Exchanging our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998).
  13. Walter Johnson, Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1999).
  14. Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves (Cambridge MA: Belknap Press, 2003).  The humanizing shift in tone from the strongly sociological “slave family” in the intellectual background of this study is striking;  Herbert G. Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925 (New York: Pantheon, 1976).
  15. Numbering (as of 9-22-08) 172 individuals, in 217 editions, in the vast “Documenting the American South” project at the University of North Carolina:  collection of “North American Slave Narratives” (
  16. With the outstanding example so far Júnia Ferreira Furtado, Chica da Silva e o contratador dos diamantes: o outro lado do mito ([São Paulo]: Companhia das Letras, 2003);  translated with an American accent on slavery as Chica da Silva: A Brazilian Slaver of the Eighteenth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
  17. Ehud R. Toledano, As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).
  18. Edward Ball, Slaves in the Family (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1997);  Henry Wiencek, The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999);  and, of course, the consternation accompanying confirmation of Sally Hemings’ likely standing as “founding mother” alongside the “founding father” and owner of hundreds of slaves at Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (New York: Norton, 2008).

    An acclaimed novel has explored the ironies of freed African-Americans slaves owning African-Americans as slaves;  Edward P. Jones, The Known World (New York: Amistad, 2003).

    And using labor in a similar vein, Jacqueline Jones, American Work: Four Centuries of Black and White Labor (New York: Norton, 1998).
  19. A recent, rough assessment of the bibliography made for teaching purposes mentioned various social sciences (economics, sociology, anthropology, politics, political economy, psychology, demography), humanities (philosophy, literature – including biography and autobiography, literary criticism, ethics, religion and theology), gender/women’s studies, folklore, genealogy, cultural studies, law, medical sciences (epidemiology, genetics), archaeology, art history, architectural history, visual arts, musicology, linguistics, statistics, and history.