In this engaging book, David Brion Davis offers an illuminating perspective on American slavery. Starting with a long view across the temporal and spatial boundaries of world slavery, he traces continuities from the ancient world to the era of exploration, with its expanding markets and rise in consumption of such products as sugar, tobacco, spices, and chocolate, to the conditions of the New World settlement that gave rise to a dependence on the forced labor of millions of African slaves. With the American Revolution, slavery crossed another kind of boundary, in a psychological inversion that placed black slaves outside the dream of liberty and equality—and turned them into the Great American Problem.
Davis then delves into a single year, 1819, to explain how an explosive conflict over the expansion and legitimacy of slavery, together with reinterpretations of the Bible and the Constitution, pointed toward revolutionary changes in American culture. Finally, he widens the angle again, in a regional perspective, to discuss the movement to colonize blacks outside the United States, the African-American impact on abolitionism, and the South's response to slave emancipation in the British Caribbean, which led to attempts to morally vindicate slavery and export it into future American states. Challenging the boundaries of slavery ultimately brought on the Civil War and the unexpected, immediate emancipation of slaves long before it could have been achieved in any other way.
This imaginative and fascinating book puts slavery into a brilliant new light and underscores anew the desperate human tragedy lying at the very heart of the American story.
No scholar has played a larger role in expanding contemporary understanding of how slavery shaped the history of the United States, the Americas, and the world than David Brion Davis. In Challenging the Boundaries of Slavery, Davis does it again, demonstrating—with extraordinary insight—the centrality of slavery to the American past.
Challenging the Boundaries of Slavery confirms David Brion Davis's status as one the most original, erudite, and influential scholars of our era. In many respects, this is his most creative work in a corpus of pathbreaking books. Sparse and elegant, it challenges boundaries of time, space, and social relations, weaves together micro and macro histories, and offers a powerful new style of historical narration. It is a breathtaking read and a brilliant accomplishment.
In strokes both broad and fine-grained Davis deftly surveys the many complex issues relating to the origins and abolition of the Atlantic slave system and its role in the formation of America. A gracefully crafted gem of historical synthesis and profound interpretive insights from the nation's preeminent student of comparative slavery.
The issue of slavery in American history has never been as clear-cut as some would prefer, and no one has done more to explain its ironies, contradictions and complexities than David Brion Davis. In this slender, beautifully written book, he explores the origin and eradication of the peculiar institution based on boundaries imposed by men and events, in the process giving us yet another classic.
In Challenging the Boundaries of Slavery [Davis provides] brief but incisive reflections on slavery in American and world history.
A brief, but illuminating, account of the ways in which slavery crossed a kind of psychological barrier to place black slaves outside the dreams of liberty and equality.
Challenging the Boundaries of Slavery is an insightful and engaging piece of work. It intertwines macro and micro histories concerning the origins and abolition of the Atlantic slave system and presents a sophisticated and complex historical synthesis that broadens the current debate and suggests new ways of thinking about the factors shaping the course of slavery in American history...This book emphasizes the fact that questions regarding slavery were intimately connected to wider debates and discourses in antebellum America concerning issues such as national character, economics and expansion. In incredibly lucid and articulate terms Davis weaves these strands together and impresses upon us the significance of slavery to the American past.
The three chapters of this short book offer smart apercus, insightful nuggets from the master historian of comparative slavery...Davis proves here that his mind is as subtle and vigorous as ever. This reader eagerly awaits more works from the greatest living historian of comparative slavery.
Perhaps the world's foremost authority on slavery...has made yet another contribution to our understanding of an ancient institution that was once ubiquitous but is now considered peculiar. With his usual clarity and concision, Davis summarizes the history of slavery from its prehistoric origins to its abolition in the United States in 1865...Davis's small volume is filled with fascinating facts...[This] masterful work... is an ideal introduction to the history of slavery for general readers and is illuminating even for scholars. The writing is clear, concise, informative and insightful.
Few scholars equal Davis's breadth and depth of knowledge mastered during his long career. Indeed, few would fault Davis if he merely took the opportunity to retrace old ground in his lectures, but it is a hallmark of this distinguished historian that he continues to recast his material, engage new sources, and think out loud in productive fashion about the meaning of slavery in the western world...By marking his retelling of the abolition of slavery with new signposts, by casting new actors in leading roles, and by proposing the existence of a much more elaborate historical context, Davis once again prompts his readers to think anew about not only the history of slavery but also the history of the United States.
- 128 pages
- 0-7/16 x 3-15/16 x 6-3/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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