The Routledge History of Slavery

The Routledge History of Slavery

The Routledge History of Slavery

The Routledge History of Slavery


The Routledge History of Slavery is a landmark publication that provides an overview of the main themes surrounding the history of slavery from ancient Greece to the present day. Taking stock of the field of Slave Studies, the book explores the major advances that have taken place in the past few decades of study in this crucial field.

Offering an unusual, transnational history of slavery, the chapters have all been specially commissioned for the collection. The volume begins by delineating the global nature of the institution of slavery, examining slavery in different parts of the world and over time. Topics covered here include slavery in Africa and the Indian Ocean World, as well as the Transatlantic Slave Trade. In Part Two, the chapters explore different themes that define slavery such as slave culture, the slave economy, slave resistance and the planter class, as well as areas of life affected by slavery, such as family and work. The final part goes on to study changes and continuities over time, looking at areas such as abolition, the aftermath of emancipation and commemoration. The volume concludes with a chapter on modern slavery.

Including essays on all the key topics and issues, this important collection from a leading international group of scholars presents a comprehensive survey of the current state of the field. It will be essential reading for all those interested in the history of slavery.


“O what a rogue and peasant slave am I”, William Shakespeare has Hamlet, the doomed Prince of Denmark exclaim at the end of Act 2 of Hamlet. Hamlet is a prince, so is almost as far removed from an actual slave as it is possible to be. Moreover, neither in Denmark, where the play is set, nor in early seventeenth-century England, where the play was performed, was slavery common. But the idea of slavery, as Shakespeare recognised, was well known even in places where a person would seldom meet a slave, let alone become a slave oneself. Shakespeare used the imagery of slavery to get at a deeper truth. To be a slave, or to feel like a slave, was to be in the pit of despair because no condition could be worse than being a slave. Slavery was a form of exploitation in which one human was owned by another person, and in which the slave hovered uncertainly between the contradictory positions of being both a piece of property and also a person. It was also, as imaginative artists since Aristophanes and thinkers beginning with Aristotle have realised, a state of mind, a status that affected how one thought of oneself, if one was a slave, and how others thought of slaves. To be a slave, as Hamlet imagined himself to be, was to experience helplessness and degradation, even if – as in this case, but not normally in actual slavery – enslavement was not accompanied by physical violence. As Betty Wood notes in Chapter 4 of this volume, for Elizabethan English people, enslavement was dehumanisation: to treat men or women as slaves was to treat them as beasts.

The 20 chapters in this volume consider not just what it felt like be a slave, but slavery in all its forms, from a means of extracting labour from unwilling people to a means whereby some people could gain status and others lose it. The essays also discuss how the existence of slavery in a society affected a variety of social, economic, political and cultural patterns. In this book, we examine slavery over both time and place: we begin with the first major slave societies developed in ancient Greece and Rome and then move on to slavery in Africa and the Indian Ocean World. We focus intently on slavery in the Americas before it ended in the late nineteenth century, and conclude with a treatment of slavery as it exists in the twenty-first century. We look at enslavement in its many different aspects. The chapters in this volume explain how slavery began, how slaves were moved from one place in the world (from the early modern period onwards mainly from West and East Africa), and how slavery was legally stopped. We look at enslaved people as workers and as members of families and cultural groupings. Other essays examine the religious and cultural beliefs of slaves and the constraints – demographic, cultural, economic, physical – that enslaved people encountered while trying to shape viable lives for themselves under extremely trying conditions.

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