The Problem of Slavery as History


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A Global Approach

Joseph C. Miller

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Why did slavery—an accepted evil for thousands of years—suddenly become regarded during the eighteenth century as an abomination so compelling that Western governments took up the cause of abolition in ways that transformed the modern world? Joseph C. Miller turns this classic question on its head by rethinking the very nature of slavery, arguing that it must be viewed generally as a process rather than as an institution. Tracing the global history of slaving over thousands of years, Miller reveals the shortcomings of Western narratives that define slavery by the same structures and power relations regardless of places and times, concluding instead that slaving is a process which can be understood fully only as imbedded in changing circumstances.

Joseph C. Miller is T. Cary Johnson Jr. Professor in the Department of History at the University of Virginia and a pre-eminent historian of world slavery. He lives in Charlottesville, VA.

“Breathtaking in its erudition, The Problem of Slavery as History speaks forcefully to the canon of slavery scholarship. It takes a provocative stance against the prevailing interpretation and challenges us to think hard and critically about how we have written the history of slavery. Miller's work is a truly brilliant scholarly statement that deserves the widest attention.”—James Brewer Stewart, Macalester College

"In this essential book, Joseph Miller asks readers to set aside what they think they know about slavery as an abstract institution and instead see how slavery was and is created—and how we might conceive of ways to undo its destructive work."—Vincent Brown, author of The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery

“Miller offers a brilliant, insightful, intensely human analysis of enslavement as experience within history, revising in significant ways how historians and social scientists understand slaving from the dawn of humanity to present times.”—Ehud R. Toledano, Tel Aviv University

“Ambitious, incisive, and poetic, The Problem of Slavery as History challenges us to rethink our understanding of African, Atlantic and global history. At once a remarkable journey through the past and a manifesto for the future, it is a must-read for all those invested in the work of history.”—Laurent Dubois, author of Haiti: The Aftershocks of History

"A provocative and deeply informed effort to historicize slavery as an evolving practice that has nevertheless remained integral to almost every society in human history. Miller argues forcefully and convincingly for the value of a more deeply historical approach to the study of slavery, one that explores most specifically the competitive political and economic contexts that over many millennia have motivated some to enslave others."—Sandra E. Greene, author of Gender, Ethnicity and Social Change on the Upper Slave Coast 

“Every historian who wants to think seriously about slavery and the South must read this book.”—Anthony E. Kaye, Journal of Southern History

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2012 for History, Geography, and Area Studies within the Social and Behavioral Sciences category.
ISBN: 9780300113150
Publication Date: March 27, 2012
240 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
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