In the eighteenth century, audiences in Great Britain understood the term ’slavery’ to refer to a range of physical and metaphysical conditions beyond the transatlantic slave trade. Literary representations of slavery encompassed tales of Barbary captivity, the ’exotic’ slaving practices of the Ottoman Empire, the political enslavement practiced by government or church, and even the harsh life of servants under a cruel master. Arguing that literary and cultural studies have focused too narrowly on slavery as a term that refers almost exclusively to the race-based chattel enslavement of sub-Saharan Africans transported to the New World, the contributors suggest that these analyses foreclose deeper discussion of other associations of the term. They suggest that the term slavery became a powerful rhetorical device for helping British audiences gain a new perspective on their own position with respect to their government and the global sphere. Far from eliding the real and important differences between slave systems operating in the Atlantic world, this collection is a starting point for understanding how slavery as a concept came to encompass many forms of unfree labor and metaphorical bondage precisely because of the power of association.
Srividhya Swaminathan is Associate Professor of English at Long Island University, USA, and Adam R. Beach is Associate Professor of English at Ball State University, USA.
A Baker & Taylor Academic Essentials Title in Area/Ethnic Studies: Black Studies outside the U.S.