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The Americas 58.3 (2002) 475-476



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Slavery and the Demographic and Economic History of Minas Gerais, Brazil, 1720-1888. By Laird W. Bergad. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Pp. xxix, 298. Illustrations. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. $54.95 cloth.

Based on his meticulous analyses of "strictly quantitative sources" (p. 152), Laird W. Bergad, a well-known economic historian of the Caribbean, has produced a fine monograph on the demography of slavery in Minas Gerais, Brazil, from the mining boom in the early decades of the eighteenth century to the year for the abolition of Brazilian slavery. Bergad demonstrates the manner in which the mining economy of Minas Gerais gave way to a successful agricultural economy before the exhaustion of the gold and diamond mines; meanwhile, the slave population expanded significantly through reproduction. As a result, Minas Gerais held the largest number of slaves in Brazil when abolition came along, although the percentage of slaves there declined due to the rapid increase of the free population of color.

For this study Bergad chose three geographical districts: Diamantina, Ouro Preto/Marina, and São João del Rei and São José del Rei, due to the availability of the archival sources, as well as for the importance of these districts as centers of the early mining economy--and, later, as population, economic, and administrative centers after the end of the mining boom (p. xxiv). The book is divided into six chapters. As the context for the study, the first two chapters respectively describe major characteristics of the Mineiro economy from settlement to 1808 (chapter 1) and the transformation of the economy from 1808-1888 (chapter 2). Chapter 3 provides the reader with the demographic history of Minas Geris under study, while positing out significant regional variations. With the author's careful examination of inventories, chapter 4 discusses the Minas slave demography including the frequency of slave marriage and stable slave family life, whereas chapter 5 (the strongest and most interesting part of the book) analyzes economic aspects of slavery, especially slave prices. Chapter 6 summarizes the study's findings.

The major contributions of this book are threefold. First, this book has responded vigorously to the ongoing vibrant scholarly discussions on the demography of Brazilian slavery and the Mineiro slave economy (p. xix-xxii), and presents new and revisionistic interpretations of the role of slavery in the development of the Mineiro economy. Second, the book joins the expanding economic history of Brazilian slavery, exemplified by such excellent monographs as Stuart B. Schwartz, Sugar Plantations in the Formation of Brazilian Society (1985) and B. J. Barrickman, A Bahian Counterpart (1998). Third, Bergad makes a significant contribution to the ongoing studies of slave prices in New World slavery by creating and examining the "first reliable time-series price data on slaves" in different demographic categories, such as gender, birthplace, and age. For instance, it is intriguing to learn that Mineiro slaves of both sexes were priced in accordance to their occupational skills and therefore one's place of birth (Africa vs. Brazil) did not matter in the eyes of slave owners as much as in other parts of the Americas, such as Cuba. [End Page 475]

This book may be adopted as a major textbook for an upper-level undergraduate or graduate seminar of Brazilian slavery, in combination of Kathleen J. Higgins's monograph, "Licentious Liberty" (1998), which presents slaves' views of slavery in Sábara, Minas Gerais. Although Bergad often refers to slavery in the Caribbean and emphasizes the value of his book for a comparative study of New World plantation slavery, especially in the U.S. South, he does not make a clear attempt to examine the case of Minas in comparison with plantation slavery in the other parts of Brazil--Bahia, Pernambuco, and Rio de Janeiro. This book will surely be valued and utilized as an excellent quantitative framework for future studies; Bergad has effectively and skillfully created a vast database for future studies of the demography of slavery and the slave-based economy in Brazil...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6247
Print ISSN
0003-1615
Pages
pp. 475-476
Launched on MUSE
2002-01-01
Open Access
No
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