Abstract

ABSTRACT:

The year 1944 saw the publication of Capitalism and Slavery in the United States. Authored by Eric Williams, a young colonial West Indian Negro and professor at Howard University, the book shattered conventional wisdom by intertwining and recasting the histories of European industrialization, African enslavement, and abolitionism. Though Williams’s three-quarter century old work has been often reprinted and remains revered as something of a bible among postcolonial radicals, it has suffered a form of blasphemy in recent years. An influential and growing body of US-based historical studies invested in “rethinking capitalism and slavery” has cited the old study in ways that misrepresents its contentions. Capitalism and Slavery has been miscomprehended in books like Empire of Cotton: A Global History (2014) by Sven Beckert, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (2014) by Edward E. Baptist, Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom and Deception in the New World (2016) by Greg Grandin, and River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (2015) by Walter Johnson. This scholarship, though impressive in many regards, twists out of Williams’ text a thesis that he never proposed. Extending a North Atlantic tradition that dates to the 1960s’, the authors have tied Williams to a claim about the “incompatibility” between capitalism and slavery that is entirely at odds with his argument. Ultimately the new Americanist efforts to rethink the relationship between capitalism and slavery have wound up “throwing shade” on Williams’ writing rather than illuminating it.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-0620
Print ISSN
0275-1275
Pages
pp. 299-326
Launched on MUSE
2019-05-21
Open Access
No
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