This Day in History 720
This Day in History 720 we read Robert Harms The Diligent: A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade. In the Spring of 1984 a journal was purchased and donated to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. The text was evaluated by the author Robert Harms, when he was an Assistant Professor at Yale, which he vetted as authentic and encouraged the library to purchase. This journal, containing the account of First Lieutenant Robert Durand and his voyage on the French slave ship Diligent between 1731-1732, became the main subject of his third book. Harms not only follows the course of the Diligent as it makes its way from Vannes, France to the African coast, to the Caribbean and back, but expounds upon the “various worlds through which it passed and the various local interest that conditioned its impact and outcome.”
If all Robert Harms book on the Diligent provided was an in depth look at a slaving voyage, it would be an invaluable resource to historians, for few such detailed logs or studies exist, Bruce Mouser’s A slaving voyage to Africa and Jamaica: the log of the Sandown also published in 2002 is another such example, yet where Harms book really shines in his investigation of the worlds that the Diligent encountered in its travels. Exploring a variety of topics and locals Harms presents a true snapshot of not only the Atlantic slave trade, but of the people and locals, be they directly involved, or merely members of the Atlantic community which the trade transpired. Through this approach Harms is able to deal with a multitude of themes, including race, politics, socioeconomics, even religion in the local histories of the towns, islands and regions in which the Diligent passed, and by doing so, Harms offers up a glimpse of the emerging globalization of the Atlantic sphere, linking Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean in this time period.
Harms book is a delightful read, and not just for historians. Although heavily sourced and academic, because he roots his narrative in the journey of the Diligent, his text reads like a novel. It is easy to get invested in the lives and struggles of Durand and his crew. I would recommend this to anyone just looking for a good read, be they academic or not.
This Day in History 720 is a weekly post chronicling the readings in my graduate history course, while examining the history geek culture.