Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Slave Ship

The Slave Ship: A Human History By Marcus Rediker (Penguin, 2007)

I wanted to make our understanding of the slave trade concrete, to see it as a human history—hence the subtitle of my book -- because I believe that the human capacity to live with injustice depends to some extent on making it abstract. The existing scholarship on the slave trade is outstanding, but a lot of it is statistical, which can occlude the horror of what one group of people is doing to another for money. (Marcus Rediker, interview)
Eric Foner's review of The Slave Ship by Marcus Rediker states: Rediker certainly knows his ships: how and where they were built, how a normal trading vessel was transformed into a slave ship by the addition of cannon and the building of a ‘barricado’, a barrier across the main deck behind which armed crewmen could retreat in the event of an uprising. He takes us on a tour from stem to stern, from captain’s quarters to the levels below decks where slaves were incarcerated. He knows the crew and their tasks – the mates, carpenters, gunners and common sailors. And he knows how slaves were captured, transported and terrorised.

The Slave Ship makes it clear that while Europeans financed, directed and profited from the trade, it could not have functioned without the active participation of rulers and traders in Africa. Domestic slavery and the trading of slaves across the Sahara to Arab merchants existed centuries before Europeans arrived in West Africa. But the rise of the transatlantic trade transformed African societies. By the 18th century, militarised states like Asante and Dahomey had come into existence that thrived by warring on and enslaving their neighbours. The trade exacerbated class tensions within African societies, as merchants and rulers profited from selling commoners to the slavers. (continue reading the entire Foner article here.)

The Leonard Lopate Show states: Marcus Rediker revisits the history of the Africa-to-America slave trade in The Slave Ship. He considers the relationships between the slave ship captain and his crew, between the sailors and the slaves, and among the captives themselves as they endured the violent and often deadly journey between Africa and America. Mr. Rediker also gives attention to those who have been largely excluded from the written accounts - enslaved women and the common seaman.

The Leonard Lopate Show / October 15, 2007 / The Slave Ship


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