Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

American Slaves and African Masters: Algiers and the Western Sahara, 1776-1820

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

American Slaves and African Masters: Algiers and the Western Sahara, 1776-1820

Article excerpt

American Slaves and African Masters: Algiers and the Western Sahara, 1776-1820. By Christine E. Sears. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Pp. 240. £59.50.

Christine E. Sears's study of the enslavement ordeal of Americans in Ottoman Algiers and the Western Sahara during the peak of corsairing activities in the Mediterranean is a wellconceived, well-written, and welcome contribution to the field of comparative slavery. After an elaborate introduction and a chapter on the context of Mediterranean and Ottoman slavery and the Barbary pirates, Sears divides the book into two main parts. In the introductory section, Sears meticulously outlines the particularities of enslavement practices shaped by urban and rural contexts in Ottoman Algiers and the Western Sahara. Using diaries, letters, and published narratives authored by enslaved Americans, the author critically interprets, analyzes, and contextually grounds their experiences and demonstrates how their ordeals reflected the diverse system of enslavement in Ottoman Algeria and the Western Sahara.

Part 1 of the book focuses on the system of enslavement in Ottoman Algiers. Sears challenges the stereotypical depiction of piracy and corsairs as barbaric, and discusses the rather complex dynamics underlying Mediterranean slavery in which Ottoman Algiers played a key role. In this system, slavery and enslavement were irregular and lacked the permanency that enslaved black Africans experienced in the Americas. According to Sears, enslavement in Ottoman Algiers rested on religious, economic, and national contexts as well as counter-enslavement by both Muslims and Christians on the western shore of the Mediterranean that predated trans-Atlantic system of slavery. To further shed light on the complexity and peculiarity of this system of slavery, Sears illustrates that while religion, for instance, played an important role in heightening the consciousness of enslaved black Africans in the United States, it was not a factor in Ottoman Algiers and the Western Sahara. To be sure, the enslaved Americans' masters rarely interfered in their daily or religious lives. …

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