Call for Essays: Slavery in the Long Eighteenth Century

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on January 13, 2010

Confronting a World of Bondage: Britain, Global Slavery, and the Long Eighteenth Century
Abstracts due by 15 March 2010

Great Britain’s engagement with transatlantic slavery in the long eighteenth century has garnered critical attention from scholars across disciplines, primarily in history and literary studies. Their dominance of the slave trade and the surprisingly successful abolitionist movement places Britain at the nexus of a set of singular social, political, and economic changes, specifically with respect to other European nations. However, as scholars like Nabil Matar and Linda Colley have shown, the idea of enslavement extended beyond West Africa and the New World. The public imagination also responded with fascination to tales of Barbary captivity and enslavement as well as to the ‘exotic’ slaving practices of the Ottoman empire. In addition, conflicts over religion produced tracts that compared Catholicism to a form of enslavement. During the Restoration in particular, pamphlets expressed the fear that Englishmen would become political ‘slaves’ to an absolutist monarch—i.e. French Catholic absolutism would enslave Englishmen in an overdetermined way. Moreover, proto-feminist discourse from writers like Mary Astell depicted the female condition as a form of enslavement.  Clearly, the term ‘slavery’ to the eighteenth-century audience encompassed broader physical and metaphysical conditions than current scholarship seems to acknowledge.

Contemporary scholarship has produced useful studies on Atlantic and Mediterranean forms of slavery, illustrating that human bondage was an extremely complicated and varied phenomenon during the long eighteenth century. If the term ‘slavery’ is associated in modern minds with the racialized institutions of plantation slavery in the Americas, it is clear that conceptions of slavery from the Restoration to the organized abolitionist movements against West African slavery encompassed a much larger domain, in both a literal and figurative sense. Moreover, audiences in Britain could and did often formulate competing ideas of slavery that allowed them to simultaneously view African slavery as a necessary evil, consider Mediterranean slavery as an atrocity, and invoke metaphorical slavery to inveigh against the current socio-political state. What new meanings can be discovered by bringing these multiple understandings of the term into conversation? How can we complicate ideas of bondage in an era that introduced new concepts of freedom and progress and knit it into a complex national narrative? (more…)

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