Friday, August 09, 2013

More numbers on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

I came across a good table which provides a breakdown of the importation of slaves to the Americas from 1519-1867. I have compressed and summarized the data below. The overwhelming emphasis by American Left-wing academics on the US role in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade to the almost total exclusion of much larger importers like Brazil is completely unjustified. It would be far more justified to concentrate on tiny Barbados to the exclusion of the rest of the hemisphere than to make the US the focus of teaching and research on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade as is currently the case. At 3.7% the US role merits a footnote, but not the overwhelming majority of attention that it currently receives from American Left-wing university professors to the detriment of understanding the institution as a whole with its much larger Caribbean and Brazilian components.

British Mainland North America - 360,400 or 3.7%
Jamaica - 1,077,100 or 11.2% (three times as many as the US)
Barbados - 491,000 or 5.1% (more than the US)
British Leewards - 304,200 or 3.2%
British Windwards and Trinidad and Tobago - 362,000 or 3.7% (more than the US)
Guianas - 403,400 or 4.2% (more than the US)
French Windwards - 304,200 or 3.1%
St. Domingue (Haiti) - 787,400 or 8.2% (more than twice as many as the US)
Spanish America - 427,200 or 4.4% (more than the US)
Spanish Caribbean - 791,900 or 8.2% (more than twice as many as the US)
Dutch Caribbean - 128,700 or 1.3%
North East Brazil - 898,800 or 9.3% (more than twice as many as the US)
Bahia - 1,036,100 or 10.7% (more than twice as many as the US)
South East Brazil - 2,042,300 or 21.1% (more five times as many as the US)
(Sub-Total for Brazil  - 3,977,200 or 41.1% [more than ten times as many as the US])
Other Americas - 110,400 or 1.1%
Africa - 131,200 or 1.4%
Total - 9,657,100 or 100%


David Eltis and David Richardson, "Prices of African Slaves Newly Arrived in the Americas, 1673-1865: New Evidence on Long-Run Trends and Regional Differentials," in David Eltis, Frank D. Lewis, and Kenneth L. Sokoloff,  (eds.), Slavery in the Development of the Americas  (Cambridge University Press, 2004), table 2, pp. 188-189.


Anonymous said...

As somebody who teaches this material, I think you're significantly misrepresenting how historians practicing in the US understand the slave trade. I know of no professional academic who doesn't know and teach these figures. American undergraduates might not know, but we try to disabuse them of these ideas when they're in our classrooms. Your anger is significantly misplaced.

delagar said...

J Otto Pohl: "Why are all these American University professors talking about the influence of Emily Dickenson on 21st Century American poetry? Don't they know about that 300 times more poetry was written in English over in ENGLAND!!!"

Seriously, son, that's what you sound like.

Consider for one minute that maybe we have a really good reason for focusing on slaves imported into the USA when we are talking about the political impact of slavery in the US.

Or -- you know -- just keep making the same point over and over and wonder why no one ever listens to you.

It can't be because you're wrong, obviously.

Withywindle said...

Can you please provide a link to a left-wing academic who argues that a majority of slaves, or anywhere close, were taken to the United States?

J. Otto Pohl said...

I have been told by people who recently graduated from US universities that the shipment of slaves to Brazil and the Caribbean is not covered at all in the Gen Ed required history classes. Instead there is a 100% attention to the 1.3% of African slaves sent to the US. Thus deliberately leaving students with the impression that the US was the single largest importer of slaves.

Withywindle said...

1) Students don't always pay attention. (Go read the Education Realist blog; high school students forget basic math functions over the summer, or even just when the test is over.)

2) Students sometimes take American history courses rather than world history courses.

3) When you mentioned scholars defending Soviet racism, you actually provided names and articles. Please do the same here.

As you should know from reading my blog these last few years, I am not terribly PC. Please listen to me (and everyone else) when I tell you that you're significantly off base here. Yes, moral self-critique has a tendency to obfuscate the sins of others. Yes, there is some PC underplaying of the Islamic slave trade and of African participation in the Atlantic slave trade. Yes, a focus on American history probably does inevitably leave an impression that colonial America was a much larger portion of the Atlantic slave trade than it actually was. But all these can happen without deliberate malice, deliberate attempts at propaganda--and generally do. Toni Morrison dedicating Beloved to "Sixty Million and More" is worthy of some ire; this is not. Mostly all it shows is that left-wing American professors are, you know, American, and hence mostly interested in America. Which is all-too American and all-too human, but should inspire a desire for gentle correction (where necessary), not high dudgeon.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Of course there are no examples of published denials of the fact that Brazil and Cuba imported more slaves in the US. But, I will note that as late as 2006 that Laird Bergard wrote, " quickly occurred to me that there was no general comparative history of slavery that focused upon the three nations." (The Comparative Histories of Slavery in Brazil, Cuba, and the United States, Cambridge University Press). The three nations being the US, Cuba, and Brazil. So I don't think the information has been made readily available to non-specialists by US academics. It was only six years ago that the first general comparative written history in English was published.

Withywindle said...

Your last sentence lacks the qualifier "of Brazil, Cuba, and the United States." An important distinction. All this means is that a particular sort of overview hadn't been written yet; mildly interesting, but not very important. The basic facts have been known every since moderately good estimates were provided--again, most of 40 or 50 years ago, as I recollect all this. We probably wouldn't even have those numbers if leftist American (and European--I believe David Eltis is British) historians hadn't done the spade work. The very interest in such numbers is presumably in large measure the result of leftist American political commitments--as, indeed, is much of the American interest in history south of the border, period.

Really, this is bizarre. It's like accusing Napoleon of Sinophilia.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, you're really off base. You've dropped into a tiny corner of a vast literature you're not familiar with and are trying to make large claims about what has and hasn't been done. In reality, you don't understand how the field has divided itself and what Bergard's statement really means.

For one, you're glossing over key terms that demarcate the field in critical ways. "The slave trade" and "slavery" are not the same thing, so that while Bergard may have indeed written the first comparative history of slavery in these three nations, that is not the same thing as tracking the Transatlantic Slave Trade, a project that goes back decades to the work of Philip Curtin (1969, _The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census_). The question you're focusing on is about the slave trade, and there is nobody reputable writing or teaching the slave trade who says the US imported the majority of slaves. Nobody.

You also shouldn't mistake Bergard as saying that there has been no comparative or transatlantic work done at all. I just read through his introduction, and he chose those specific sites because they were the three places in the Americans where slavery lasted past 1860. His claim is that no one work has studied these three specific nations (and there's good methodological reason for that). But scholars have been doing transnational projects for decades. To name a select but prominent few: David Brion Davis, Rebecca Scott, Jennifer Morgan, and David Eltis (who has spent decades gathering the quantitative data required to give us a clear picture of where slaves went). Robin Blackburn, a leftist and a historian writing for a broader audience, has written several comparative histories of the slave trade and slavery, starting with _The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery_ in the late 1980s and ending with his very recent _American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation, and Human Rights_. The latter uses "American" in its proper context, as referring to the two continents rather than simply the United States.

In other words, there is no shortage of work done decades before Bergard that views the slave trade in its entirety. No shortage.

J. Otto Pohl said...

There is no shortage of academic literature largely inaccessible to the layman on the issue. But, it appears that almost nobody other than specialists is aware of it because it is apparently not taught in many general history classes in the US at the university level. You are confusing what experts publish in tiny obscure journals and monographs and what the average college graduate knows. I brought up Bergard specifically because it is a general rather than a specialist history meant for laymen. There is a huge amount of specialist literature on many topics. There is a huge literature on ethnic Germans in the USSR too, but a guarantee most Americans regardless of their degree have never heard of the Trudovoi Armiia.

Withywindle said...

To repeat: most students don't pay attention. And most people aren't interested in history. Some depressingly large proportion number of Americans don't know who our allies were in World War II, or when it was, or that it even existed. (And I have no particular reason to believe that furriners are any better.) Heck, some non-trivial portion of the population probably believes Pres. Obama is a Republican. I say all this with love and affection (if exasperation)--after all, in America anyway, you usually can get by in your daily life completely ignorant of the near-entirety of human history. But to say that an example of ignorance is evidence in itself of the failings of the professoriate is to make a few logical steps too many.

This isn't to say it never happens. I do think there are various aspects of the catechism of Western thought and history that are deliberately neglected among teachers at the various levels. But this just isn't one of them.

I should say: I don't think I ever learned precisely how small the proportion of the slave trade involved colonial America until grad school. And it was indeed startling! But the new fact contradicted nothing I had learned earlier. I didn't take it as evidence of conspiracy, or professorial malice; just that it was another example that the world is full of new things to learn.

Anonymous said...

The last thing I'll say on this: I repeat what I said earlier. David Brion Davis and Robin Blackburn are historians who are writing for a general audience. Nobody in the field has done more to write to a lay audience—and indeed teach a lay audience, since Davis spent many years running a summer workshop for high school teachers—than Davis. His works are routinely reviewed in the New York Times. Blackburn is not even an academic by training: he doesn't have a PhD, spent much of his career as editor of the New Left Review, and has published all of his books with Verso. Try as you might, you can't palm the work of these men off as published in obscure journals. Blackburn's latest work was similarly reviewed in many of the major papers and literary magazines. The average educated American isn't reading about the slave trade in their spare time, but that's not the fault of Davis and Blackburn or any other professional historian.