This project will study the questions surrounding slavery and serfdom in Europe and the New World within the timeframe of the Early Modern period, defined here broadly as stretching from the sixteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth. The Portuguese began buying slaves in Africa in the sixteenth century, and the opening up of the New World from that time has vast repercussions for the self-image of the Old (European) World that have been extensively studied by literary and cultural historians. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars that follow mark a significant turning-point in the debates about enslavement. It is not that the trading of enslaved people stops after that date: it does not (and nor does serfdom disappear entirely from Europe). But by then the arguments against the slave trade were fully articulated and coming to gain broad acceptance in Britain, France and elsewhere.
It has been estimated that about 12 million enslaved people entered the Atlantic trade between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, and about 1.5 million of these died during the sea crossing. The European nations principally involved in the Atlantic slave trade were, in order the volume of the trade, Portugal, Britain, Spain, France, the Netherlands, the United States and Denmark. The most intensive moment of this Atlantic trade was in the eighteenth century, by which time Britain and France had become the principal actors; more than half of the entire Atlantic slave trade took place during this period.
This subject is currently an active area of research, and there have been a number of overviews of the history of enslavement and the questions it poses (for example, Delpiano). In contributing to this important ongoing debate, this project will focus on three aspects in particular: