This Day in History 720
Today we take a look at Eric Williams book Capitalism and Slavery. Although this book was published in 1944, its argument remains quite provocative and relevant. Williams argues overall that the expansion and abolition of slavery in the British colonies was tied directly to transition from a mercantile to a capitalist economy. By taking an economic approach, Williams essentially takes the humanitarian element out of the equation on the topic of slavery.
Williams focus is primarily the slave culture in the West Indian colonies. During the era of mercantile economics, slavery was fostered and a monopoly was created around West Indian sugar plantations. With the industrial revolution and the transition to a capitalist society, what once was the flag ship of British economic policy became an anchor dragging down the advancement of the economy. Suddenly, abolition became a focus, but only in the West Indies, where in 1833 slavery ended, yet free trade continued with other slave societies such as Brazil, the East Indies, and the US.
Williams book is a challenge to period and future historians. He ends his book with one of my favorite quotes: ”The historians neither make or guide history. Their Share in such is usually so small as to be almost negligible. But if they do not learn something from history, their activities would then be cultural decoration, or a pleasant pastime, equally useless in these trouble times.”
This Day in History 720 is a weekly post chronicling the readings in my graduate history course, while examining the history geek culture.