Cover: Faces of Perfect Ebony: Encountering Atlantic Slavery in Imperial Britain, from Harvard University PressCover: Faces of Perfect Ebony in HARDCOVER

Harvard Historical Studies 175

Faces of Perfect Ebony

Encountering Atlantic Slavery in Imperial Britain

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Product Details


$59.50 • £47.95 • €53.50

ISBN 9780674050082

Publication Date: 01/02/2012


374 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

17 color illustrations, 69 halftones

Harvard Historical Studies


Focusing on the period of Britain’s greatest engagement in the Atlantic slave trade (ca. 1680–1807), Molineux taps on material culture and popular literature to reveal the presence of Africans in Enlightenment Britain. In doing so, she extends further into the past the growing body of scholarship emphasizing the imperial metropole as a significant contact zone between Britain and its tropical empire. She also highlights slavery’s existence in the UK and correlation with racial ‘othering.’ While Britain’s black population remained small, its presence exerted significant influence in British culture, from the use of images of Africans on shop signs and household commodities to the role of black subjects in performance and art. Most important is Molineux’s exploration of British society’s ambivalence toward people of African descent. This ambivalence enabled the simultaneous drawing of contrasts and similarities between whites and blacks in the UK, the latter feeding abolitionist sentiment. Based on exhaustive research, this book skillfully employs cultural critique to illuminate the empire’s influence on British society.—A.M. Wainwright, Choice

Offers an important and original analysis of local and popular representations of empire in Britain. It is the first account to present a sustained analysis of how images of white mastery and black servitude were mobilized to help Britons think about themselves in a metropolitan context. This book will make a major contribution to British imperial history, Atlantic history and culture, the history of racialization and slavery, and the histories of art and visual culture.—K. Dian Kriz, Brown University

A vivid and arrestingly original book. Molineux’s innovative work shows us that the story of black life in imperial Britain survived in the most unlikely of sources: in contemporary print, iconography and theatre, in shop signs, trade cards, and ephemera of all kinds. Her persuasive argument, allied to the richness of her evidence, illuminates not only eighteenth-century Britain, but provides a discerning insight into the broader world of Atlantic history in the long century before abolition. What had once seemed a curiosity is now revealed, via Molineux’s forensic and literary skills, as a multilayered portrait of cultural change during the long century of Britain’s Atlantic empire.—James Walvin, University of York

An exemplary work that takes the study of the visual cultures of slavery in bold new directions. By turning her delicate skills of interpretation to anything and everything that Britain’s colonial ambition generated, Molineux has inaugurated what may be a tidal change in early slavery studies. She deserves our gratitude for having produced a brilliant piece of detective work which redefines our notions of racial encounter. Faces of Perfect Ebony is a book we should all read, digest, and read again, if we hope to understand the bizarre ways in which the white gaze appropriated and unfortunately still appropriates the black body.—Marcus Wood, University of Sussex

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