Daily Archives: November 25, 2020

Economic Growth and the Ending of the Transatlantic Slave Trade: David Eltis

This watershed study is the first to consider in concrete terms the consequences of Britain’s abolition of the Atlantic slave trade. Why did Britain pull out of the slave trade just when it was becoming important for the world economy and the demand for labor around the world was high? Caught between the incentives offered by the world economy for continuing trade at full tilt and the ideological and political pressures from its domestic abolitionist movement, Britain chose to withdraw, believing, in part, that freed slaves would work for low pay which in turn would lead to greater and cheaper products.

In a provocative new thesis, historian David Eltis here contends that this move did not bolster the British economy; rather, it vastly hindered economic expansion as the empire’s control of the slave trade and its great reliance on slave labor had played a major role in its rise to world economic dominance. Thus, for sixty years after Britain pulled out, the slave economies of Africa and the Americas flourished and these powers became the dominant exporters in many markets formerly controlled by Britain. Addressing still-volatile issues arising from the clash between economic and ideological goals, this global study illustrates how British abolitionism changed the tide of economic and human history on three continents.


“Brilliant. A tour de force.”–Richard Salvucci, Trinity University
“Eltis has produced a very important piece of historical work, covering a large and important topic with an impressive integration of primary research and generously acknowledged secondary writings….[I]t raises the entire discussion to a new level of both empirical and interpretive scholarship.”–American Historical Review

“Eltis’s magisterial reconstruction of the last, and most dynamic, century of the slave trade and the Atlantic slave economy…should command our attention. In its depth of documentation, its systematic treatment of alternatives, and in its geographical scope, it is a landmark in the history of the slave trade.”–Journal of Social History

“Ambitious and far-reaching….Stimulating and should be read by anyone interested in how the slave trade, suppression, and economic development of the Americas, Africa, and Europe in the nineteenth century were connected. It is safe to say that this book will stand the test of time and will have to be cited and taken into account by researchers interested in a wide variety of questions.”–Argonauta

“A painstakingly researched and thought-provoking book, that seems destined to become one of the more controversial classics of the history of the slave trade.”–English Historical Review

“The most innovative, provocative, and, in many ways, disturbing assessment of the trade’s character and the limited gains of abolition….[A] remarkable achievement.”–Journal of the Early Republic

“An important survey and outstanding synthesis….[A] major contribution to the literature of slavery.”–The Historian

“A work of prodigious and meticulous scholarship, Eltis’s book will be studied and debated well into the next century….Eltis’s provocative arguments will require historians to reconsider the entire Anglo-American antislavery movement as well as the place of coerced labor in an emerging industrial and free market Atlantic world.”–David Brion Davis, The New York Review of Books

“Eltis’s narrative…displays wide-ranging scholarship, good economic analysis, and careful quantitative work….The value in the book lies in its scrupulous care in depicting the abolition and suppression of the slave trade, not in debatable judgments about its signficance for British economic development or American immigration. That depiction is certain to ensure its status as a classic in this field.”–Labor History

“A provocative book that promises to long be required reading.”–Library Journal

  • Paperback : 434 pages
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0195045635
  • Item Weight : 12.8 ounces
  • Dimensions : 5.31 x 0.81 x 8 inches
  • ISBN-10 : 0195045637
  • Publisher : Oxford University Press (October 19, 1989)

The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas: David Eltis

Exploring the paradox of the concurrent development of slavery and freedom in the European domains, The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas provides a fresh interpretation of the development of the English Atlantic slave system. The book outlines a major African role in the evolution of the Atlantic societies before the nineteenth century and argues that the transatlantic slave trade was a result of African strength rather than African weakness. It also addresses changing patterns of group identity to account for the racial basis of slavery in the early modern Atlantic World.


“Eltis’s impressive book does good work in two different arenas. Specialists in research on the Atlantic slave trade in Africa and the Americas will see better then before the integration among markets and regions that characterized this trade. Economists and historians who are not specialists will see this as well, but they will also find the book a proficient and well-sourced overview of a massive subject.” EH.NET

“The Rise of African Slavery bears all the hallmarks of the historical craftsmanship we have come to expect from Eltis; a grasp of theoretical and statistical complexity, a mastery of archival materials and a rare ability to impose a tight and disciplined argument on material which, in less talented hands, might overwhelm the author. Here, as elsewhere, Eltis reveals himself to be the finest historian in the field.” International Journal of Maritime History

“Eltis has produced a volume of remarkable empirical depth and insightful interpretation that deserves a wide audience. His enormously important book will no doubt quickly come to be regarded as one of the best examples of what the growing field of Atlantic history has to offer…The author’s probing, often provocative conclusions will surely stimulate debate among specialists in a range of subfields concerned with the early modern histories of Europe, Africa, and the Americas.” William and Mary Quarterly

“Commented the Gilder Lehrman Center’s director, David Brion Davis, professor of history at Yale: ‘ This work fundamentally reshapes our understanding of the origins and development of African slavery in the New World…Professor Eltis’ painstakingly researched and convincingly argued book stands as a major contribution to the field.'” Houston, TX NEWSPAGES

“As an economic history of the Atlantic slave trade and the plantation complex in the Americas, Dr. Eltis’s work contains an impressive amount of factual and quantitative detail.” The Americas

“The book shows that African agency was crucially important in determining who entered the slave trade and how it was conducted…Eltis writes clearly and provocatively and never loses sight of the larger framework he is dicussing.” The International History Review

“This is a well-crafted, imaginatively constructed, complex account of why slavery in the Americas became exclusively African…This elegantly written account is tantalizing, provocative…” American Historical Review Dec 2001

“…a sophisticated, highly recommended, and unusually stimulating book with an outstanding bibliography…readers will admire the strong appeal to consider the cultural dimensions of economic and political decision-making.” The Historian

  • Paperback : 372 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 052165548X
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0521655484
  • Dimensions : 6 x 0.93 x 9 inches
  • Publisher : Cambridge University Press; 1st Printing edition (January 5, 2010)

The Transatlantic Slave Trade: A History, Revised Edition: James A. Rawley, Stephen D. Behrendt

The transatlantic slave trade played a major role in the development of the modern world. It both gave birth to and resulted from the shift from feudalism into the European Commercial Revolution. James A. Rawley fills a scholarly gap in the historical discussion of the slave trade from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century by providing one volume covering the economics, demography, epidemiology, and politics of the trade.

This revised edition of Rawley’s classic, produced with the assistance of Stephen D. Behrendt, includes emended text to reflect the major changes in historiography; current slave trade data tables and accompanying text; updated notes; and the addition of a select bibliography.

Editorial Review

“This first-rate new study discusses the size and profitability of the slave business, the people who engaged in it, and its consequences in European and American history.”—New Yorker
New Yorker

“[The Transatlantic Slave Trade] corrects many misconceptions and stereotypes. It is of great value as a compendium of information about the European side of the trade and as a synthesis of recent scholarly work on the subject. . . . Intelligent and persuasive.”—New York Times Book Review
New York Times Book Review

“A work of substance that will serve as a general reference for some time.”—Journal of American History
Journal of American History

“Useful for the historian looking for a synthesis and overview of the literature. . . . A valuable source book for anyone interested in the slave trade, and it is an often fascinating account.”—The Complete Review
The Complete Review

About the Author

James A. Rawley (1916–2005) was Carl Adolph Happold Professor of History, emeritus, at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He is the author of several books, including Turning Points of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln and a Nation Worth Fighting For, both available in Bison Books editions.

Stephen D. Behrendt is a senior lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington. He has coauthored a data archive of 27,233 slave voyages, The Transatlantic Slave Trade: A Database on CD-ROM.

  • Paperback : 464 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0803227973
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0803227972
  • Dimensions : 6 x 1.03 x 9 inches
  • Publisher : University of Nebraska Press; Revised edition (July 1, 2009)

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America: Colin Woodard

• A New Republic Best Book of the Year • The Globalist Top Books of the Year • Winner of the Maine Literary Award for Non-fiction •

Particularly relevant in understanding who voted for who in this presidential election year, this is an endlessly fascinating look at American regionalism and the eleven “nations” that continue to shape North America

According to award-winning journalist and historian Colin Woodard, North America is made up of eleven distinct nations, each with its own unique historical roots. In American Nations he takes readers on a journey through the history of our fractured continent, offering a revolutionary and revelatory take on American identity, and how the conflicts between them have shaped our past and continue to mold our future. From the Deep South to the Far West, to Yankeedom to El Norte, Woodard (author of American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good) reveals how each region continues to uphold its distinguishing ideals and identities today, with results that can be seen in the composition of the U.S. Congress or on the county-by-county election maps of this year’s Trump versus Clinton presidential election.

Colin Woodard, an award-winning writer and journalist, is currently the state and national affairs writer at the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram where he won a 2012 George Polk Award and was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting A longtime foreign correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, he has reported from more than fifty foreign countries and six continents. His work has appeared in dozens of publications, including The Economist, Smithsonian, The Washington Post, Politico, Newsweek, The Daily Beast, The Guardian, Bloomberg View, and Washington Monthly. A graduate of Tufts University and the University of Chicago, he is the author of four other books including American Character and The Republic of Pirates.

  • Paperback : 384 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 9780143122029
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0143122029
  • Dimensions : 5.44 x 0.8 x 8.35 inches
  • Publisher : Penguin Books; Illustrated edition (September 25, 2012)

Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History): David Eltis, David Richardson, David W. Blight, David Bryon Davis,

A extraordinary work, decades in the making: the first atlas to illustrate the entire scope of the transatlantic slave trade

​Winner of the Association of American Publishers’ 2010 R.R. Hawkins Award and PROSE Award
“A monumental chronicle of this historical tragedy.”—Dwight Garner, New York Times
Between 1501 and 1867, the transatlantic slave trade claimed an estimated 12.5 million Africans and involved almost every country with an Atlantic coastline. In this extraordinary book, two leading historians have created the first comprehensive, up-to-date atlas on this 350-year history of kidnapping and coercion. It features nearly 200 maps, especially created for the volume, that explore every detail of the African slave traffic to the New World. The atlas is based on an online database (www.slavevoyages.org) with records on nearly 35,000 slaving voyages—roughly 80 percent of all such voyages ever made.

Using maps, David Eltis and David Richardson show which nations participated in the slave trade, where the ships involved were outfitted, where the captives boarded ship, and where they were landed in the Americas, as well as the experience of the transatlantic voyage and the geographic dimensions of the eventual abolition of the traffic. Accompanying the maps are illustrations and contemporary literary selections, including poems, letters, and diary entries, intended to enhance readers’ understanding of the human story underlying the trade from its inception to its end.

This groundbreaking work provides the fullest possible picture of the extent and inhumanity of one of the largest forced migrations in history.

Editorial Review

“A monumental chronicle of this historical tragedy, one that records some 35,000 individual slaving voyages, roughly 80 percent of those made. . . . [This book] is a human document as well as a rigorous accounting. It is filled with moving poems, photographs, letters and diary entries.”—Dwight Garner, New York Times

“A monumental chronicle of this historical tragedy, one that records some 35,000 individual slaving voyages, roughly 80 percent of those made. The authors remind us that only 4 percent of the captives disembarked in what became the United States, while 95 percent arrived in the Caribbean and South America. Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade is a human document as well as a rigorous accounting. It is filled with moving poems, photographs, letters and diary entries.”—Dwight Garner, New York Times

“A remarkable resource. . . . The charts raise as many questions as they answer; this is entirely the point.”—James Delbourgo, Times Higher Education “. . . a ground-breaking project: the Atlas will be indispensable for all those interested in the slave trade.”—Jane Webster, Times Literary Supplement

“. . . a beautifully produced volume . . . The whole is topped and tailed by two excellent essays: a masterly introduction by David Brion Davis and a rousing afterword by David Blight. The end result of all this international, scholarly effort is a remarkable book which is not only a pleasure to have on one’s shelves, but a model of scholarly and publishing activity. . . . Here, and in their varied (and complex) work as individual scholars, Eltis and Richardson have revealed themselves to be among the most imaginative, influential and distinguished historians of their generation.”—James Walvin, International Journal of Maritime History

“One of the most ambitious books of this—or any other—publishing season: a fascinating, horrifying, beautifully put-together atlas of the transatlantic slave trade.”—Very Short List

“Literary selections and paintings/illustrations are included to broaden readers’ understanding of the human story behind the maps and charted statistics.”—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“This marvelous book will change how people think of the slave trade. It deserves every accolade it is likely to get.”—Nicolas van de Walle, Foreign Affairs “This is a beautiful atlas . . . a valuable reference for scholars of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade and a teaching tool for anyone engaged with African or African diasporic history . . . I’ll return to it for years to come and look forward to introducing it to my students.”—Walter Hawthorne, The Americas

Atlas is a testament to the value of collaborative effort . . . a substantial and lasting contribution to the economic history of transatlantic slaving and our understanding of the subject . . . an excellent reference text.”—Kwasi Konadu, African Studies Review

Winner of the 2010 R.R. Hawkins Award, given by the Association of American Publishers Winner of the PROSE Award for Excellence in Single Volume Reference/Humanities and Social Sciences category, as given by the Association of American PublishersReceived Honorable Mention for the 2011 Dartmouth Medal for outstanding reference Honorable Mention in the General Non-Fiction category of the 2010 Los Angeles Book Festival Winner of the 2011 Anisfield-Wolf Awards in the non-fiction category

“A brilliant rendition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. This atlas is essential to the study of chattel slavery. No student of slavery should be without it.”—Ira Berlin, University of Maryland

“These magnificent maps—all 189—document almost every conceivable aspect of one of the world’s worst crimes. An epic and gruesome drama receives a fitting representation. A superb contribution to scholarship.”—Philip D. Morgan, Johns Hopkins University

“This is a highly original work and represents a major contribution to historical analysis. There are no comparable works on this topic.”—Stanley Engerman, University of Rochester

“This is an important project that will add greatly to our understanding about the major, long-term patterns of trade between Africa and the Americas, help to map the African Diaspora, and place the transatlantic slave trade in larger world history context.”—Steve Behrendt, Victoria University of Wellington

“This is a major work of enormous consequence, without parallel in the literature, deeply researched, highly original, and of immeasurable value.”—Harm J. de Blij, Michigan State University

About the Author

David Eltis is Emeritus Robert W. Woodruff Professor at Emory University. David Richardson is the former director of the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation, and professor of economic history, University of Hull, England. Together, the authors coedited Extending the Frontiers: Essays on the New Transatlantic Slave Trade Database.

  • Paperback : 336 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0300212542
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0300212549
  • Dimensions : 8.8 x 0.7 x 12.1 inches
  • Publisher : Yale University Press; Illustrated edition (February 16, 2015)

Extending the Frontiers: Essays on the New Transatlantic Slave Trade Database: David Eltis, David Richardson

Since 1999, intensive research efforts have vastly increased what is known about the history of coerced migration of transatlantic slaves. A huge database of slave trade voyages from Columbus’s era to the mid-nineteenth century is now available on an open-access Web site, incorporating newly discovered information from archives around the Atlantic world. The groundbreaking essays in this book draw on these new data to explore fundamental questions about the trade in African slaves. The research findings―that the size of the slave trade was 14 percent greater than had been estimated, that trade above and below the equator was largely separate, that ports sending out the most slave voyages were not in Europe but in Brazil, and more―challenge accepted understandings of transatlantic slavery and suggest a variety of new directions for important further research.

For the most complete database on slave trade voyages ever compiled, visit http://www.slavevoyages.org.

African Kings and Black Slaves: Sovereignty and Dispossession in the Early Modern Atlantic (The Early Modern Americas): Herman L. Bennett

As early as 1441, and well before other European countries encountered Africa, small Portuguese and Spanish trading vessels were plying the coast of West Africa, where they conducted business with African kingdoms that possessed significant territory and power. In the process, Iberians developed an understanding of Africa’s political landscape in which they recognized specific sovereigns, plotted the extent and nature of their polities, and grouped subjects according to their ruler.

In African Kings and Black Slaves, Herman L. Bennett mines the historical archives of Europe and Africa to reinterpret the first century of sustained African-European interaction. These encounters were not simple economic transactions. Rather, according to Bennett, they involved clashing understandings of diplomacy, sovereignty, and politics. Bennett unearths the ways in which Africa’s kings required Iberian traders to participate in elaborate diplomatic rituals, establish treaties, and negotiate trade practices with autonomous territories. And he shows how Iberians based their interpretations of African sovereignty on medieval European political precepts grounded in Roman civil and canon law. In the eyes of Iberians, the extent to which Africa’s polities conformed to these norms played a significant role in determining who was, and who was not, a sovereign people—a judgment that shaped who could legitimately be enslaved.

Through an examination of early modern African-European encounters, African Kings and Black Slaves offers a reappraisal of the dominant depiction of these exchanges as being solely mediated through the slave trade and racial difference. By asking in what manner did Europeans and Africans configure sovereignty, polities, and subject status, Bennett offers a new depiction of the diasporic identities that had implications for slaves’ experiences in the Americas.

Editorial Reviews

“At the core of Bennett’s book is the argument that the fierce competition between Portugal and Spain over the African Atlantic, which was significantly mediated by the Church, was crucial to the creation of the modern nation-state and of what became modern European nationalism. Early national identities in Europe were forged, to a substantial extent, on the basis of competition over trade and influence in Africa. And this, Bennett says, gets completely lost in Western histories that fast-forward from the conquest of the Canary Islands to Columbus’s arrival in the Americas.”—New York Review of Books

“An immensely thought-provoking book. In his sophisticated reconsideration of late-medieval European characterizations of sub-Saharan Africans, Herman L. Bennett troubles the traditional account of the rise of the West.”—David Wheat, Michigan State University

African Kings and Black Slaves centers the histories of peoples of African descent in the grand tale of imperial conquest and power and thereby challenges the dominant narrative that colonial slavery has timelessly been about freedom. Herman Bennett is especially sensitive to the multisited nature of the contests set in motion by colonial encounters.”—Antoinette Burton, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

African Kings and Black Slaves is an impressive work that fundamentally challenges current understandings of slavery, empire and modernity, and will likely be the cornerstone of a new body of scholarship it invites.”—Bulletin of Spanish Studies

“Bennett engages a wide historiography and offers new perspectives on early Atlantic legal culture, political and religious authority, pageantry, and slavery. Bennett complicates the narrative that Europeans rendered Africans into property and capital through Roman law and Christian theology . . . .African Kings and Black Slaves is one of the boldest and most successful attempts yet to engage the fields of African studies, history, and critical theory equally.”—Hispanic American Historical Review

“The book is short but packed with Bennett’s analyses of the work of previous and current theorists and scholars. His judgments are acute, and . . . [h]e examines a prodigious amount of theory, using those parts of the corpus and the arguments that are pertinent and demolishing those he deems mistaken or misleading . . . The book is a major accomplishment and a testament to Bennett’s wide reading. All
those working on Atlantic slavery will need to take it into account.”—Renaissance Quarterly

“Herman L. Bennett’s indispensable study alerts us to the political and intellectual consequences of flattening the history of Europe’s relations with Africa by overlooking the Iberian experience. He ably shows how recuperating the notion of African sovereignty, abundantly recognized in early exchanges, can fundamentally change our understanding of African polities and African subjects.”—Barbara Fuchs, University of California, Los Angeles

About the Author

Herman L. Bennett is Professor of History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is author of Colonial Blackness: A History of Afro-Mexico and Africans in Colonial Mexico: Absolutism, Christianity and Afro-Creole Consciousness, 1570-1640.

  • Paperback : 240 pages
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0812224627
  • ISBN-10 : 0812224620
  • Dimensions : 6 x 0.55 x 9 inches
  • Publisher : University of Pennsylvania Press; Reprint edition (March 6, 2020)

See related:

Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800 (Studies in Comparative World History) : John Thornton

This book explores Africa’s involvement in the Atlantic world from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries. It focuses especially on the causes and consequences of the slave trade, in Africa, in Europe, and in the New World. Prior to 1680, Africa’s economic and military strength enabled African elites to determine how trade with Europe developed. Thornton examines the dynamics that made slaves so necessary to European colonizers. He explains why African slaves were placed in significant roles. Estate structure and demography affected the capacity of slaves to form a self-sustaining society and behave as cultural actors. This second edition contains a new chapter on eighteenth century developments.


“…ambitious and far-reaching reinterpretation….This very significant, far-reaching, impressive work is essential reading for American historians.” The Journal of American History

This book explores Africa’s involvement in the Atlantic world from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries. It focuses especially on the causes and consequences of the slave trade, in Africa, in Europe, and in the New World. Prior to 1680, Africa’s economic and military strength enabled African elites to determine how trade with Europe developed. Thornton examines the dynamics which made slaves so necessary to European colonizers. He explains why African slaves were placed in significant roles. Estate structure and demography affected the capacity of slaves to form a self-sustaining society and behave as cultural actors.

  • Paperback : 380 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 9780521627245
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0521627245
  • Dimensions : 5.98 x 0.91 x 8.94 inches
  • ASIN : 0521627249
  • Publisher : Cambridge University Press; 2nd edition (April 28, 1998)

A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution: Toby Green

By the time the “Scramble for Africa” among European colonial powers began in the late nineteenth century, Africa had already been globally connected for centuries. Its gold had fueled the economies of Europe and the Islamic world for nearly a millennium, and the sophisticated kingdoms spanning its west coast had traded with Europeans since the fifteenth century. Until at least 1650, this was a trade of equals, using a variety of currencies—most importantly, cowrie shells imported from the Maldives and nzimbu shells imported from Brazil. But, as the slave trade grew, African kingdoms began to lose prominence in the growing global economy. We have been living with the effects of this shift ever since.

With A Fistful of Shells, Toby Green transforms our view of West and West-Central Africa by reconstructing the world of these kingdoms, which revolved around trade, diplomacy, complex religious beliefs, and the production of art. Green shows how the slave trade led to economic disparities that caused African kingdoms to lose relative political and economic power. The concentration of money in the hands of Atlantic elites in and outside these kingdoms brought about a revolutionary nineteenth century in Africa, parallel to the upheavals then taking place in Europe and America. Yet political fragmentation following the fall of African aristocracies produced radically different results as European colonization took hold.

Drawing not just on written histories, but on archival research in nine countries, art, oral history, archaeology, and letters, Green lays bare the transformations that have shaped world politics and the global economy since the fifteenth century and paints a new and masterful portrait of West Africa, past and present.

Editorial Reviews

“This meticulously researched book, based on archival research in nine countries, lays out a comprehensive overview of the economic history of West Africa and West-Central Africa before and after the slave trade. . . . A valuable history written in an accessible style.”
Publishers Weekly

A Fistful of Shells, Green’s survey of the economic history of West African slave-trading states from the Niger valley to the drainage area of the Zaire, is exemplary: scholarly, sensitive, enlightening and often vivid. The author, a lecturer at King’s College London, does much more than make Africa seem normal. He proclaims a daunting ambition: to explore the local and global implications of West Africa’s economies during the age of slavery. He succeeds.”
Wall Street Journal

“Drawing on written accounts and oral histories from nine countries, Green traces the long-term consequences of a European-dominated capitalist system that gave rise to mounting inequality and political upheaval in West and West-Central Africa. . . . Summing Up: Essential.”

“His book is a work of staggering scholarship, drawing on previously untapped sources locked away in European vaults and historical records which, taken as a whole, contradict the age-old perceptions foisted on Africa.”

Telegraph (UK)

“A rich and insightful work. . . . What emerges is a radically different view of the region from the one that has been generally available. West Africa, according to Green, was both cosmopolitan in its outlook, culturally and politically sophisticated and in some ways globally connected long before Europeans arrived to ‘civilise the natives.’ . . . Green concludes by pointing to the lack of history being taught in schools and universities in West Africa and elsewhere; if it is taught at all, it tends to focus on the slave trade. A Fistful of Shells shows that there was so much more, and of so much relevance when looking at the issues of our own time.”

“All too often, the history of early modern Africa is told from the perspective of outsiders. In his book A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution, Toby Green draws upon a range of underutilized sources to describe the evolution of West Africa over a period of four transformative centuries. With these sources Green demonstrates that the region was integrated into the developing transcontinental trade networks far earlier than is often portrayed in more Western-centric accounts, and in ways that influenced the development of local communities long before European ships arrived off of their coast.”
New Books Network

“One of its great strengths is that it reveals the often surprising success that Africans had throughout the first four hundred years of their encounter with Europe. . . . [a] sprawling and nuanced look at the steady depletion of a continent with a powerful lament about the lack of academic interest in Africa’s precolonial eras.”
New York Review of Books

A Fistful of Shells is the fruit of research conducted in the archives of nine nations and required the author to undertake fieldwork across eight West African states. It shows. Passages from the author’s travels provide observations and anecdotes that usefully link the past to the present day and give voice to the lives and experiences of African themselves. Ranging far beyond economics, Green’s thesis becomes, ultimately, an almost philosophical meditation on the nature of value across differing cultures and societies during a long and underexamined era of early globalisation.”
New Statesman

“Green’s A Fistful of Shells illuminates the flourishing and connected economy of West Africa that existed long before a European capitalist system established itself on the continent. Extraordinarily written and researched, the book paints a huge, complex canvas, crammed with individual detail.”

The Rise of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Western Africa, 1300-1589 (African Studies): Toby Green

The region between the river Senegal and Sierra Leone saw the first trans-Atlantic slave trade in the sixteenth century. Drawing on many new sources, Toby Green challenges current quantitative approaches to the history of the slave trade. New data on slave origins can show how and why Western African societies responded to Atlantic pressures. Green argues that answering these questions requires a cultural framework and uses the idea of creolization – the formation of mixed cultural communities in the era of plantation societies – to argue that preceding social patterns in both Africa and Europe were crucial. Major impacts of the sixteenth-century slave trade included political fragmentation, changes in identity, and the reorganization of ritual and social patterns. The book shows which peoples were enslaved, why they were vulnerable, and the consequences in Africa and beyond.

Editorial Reviews

“Many current scholars lay claim to a trans-national and cross-cultural ‘Atlantic’ history but very few have brought together the detail, scope, and vision of Toby Green. This remarkable book, focusing on Cabo Verde, Senegambia, and Upper Guinea, reveals how Iberian imperial authorities, a New Christian/Crypto-Jewish diaspora, and African economic and political agents combined to produce a wide-ranging early modern order of commerce and cultural identity around the violence of the slave trade.”
Ralph Austen, University of Chicago

“In this original and thoroughly researched study, Green recasts our understanding of the early years of Africa’s engagement with Atlantic merchants. He ‘Africanizes’ Atlantic history by showing that a cultural framework established in Africa before the Portuguese ‘discoveries’, which began in the 1440s, influenced the nature of African-European exchanges for more than a century. In so doing, Green crafts a ‘culturally centered approach’, which stands in contrast to quantitative approaches popular in much recent scholarship. He also shows that a widely held view that a region known as Upper Guinea was relatively unimportant in the early years of Atlantic exchange is incorrect. Patterns set in Upper Guinea shaped the unfolding of the history of the slave trade, of racist ideologies, and of creolization or cultural mixing. Well written and well argued, Green’s is a story that had to be told.”
Walter Hawthorne, Michigan State University, and author of From Africa to Brazil: Culture, Identity, and an Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600-1830

“Green’s book is learned and wide-ranging. It is also deeply humane and marked by an imaginative empathy of rare quality. The result is one of the best and most rewarding works I have read on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This is a major contribution to West African and Atlantic history and marks Green as a scholar to watch.”
T. C. McCaskie, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

“[This book] makes a significant contribution to historical understanding of the beginnings of European trade in Africa and places the Cape Verde islands in their rightful place at the centre of this important story. It will interest scholars of the Atlantic World and a general audience interested in European expansion and maritime trade.”
Journal of World History

“A study of an impressive wealth of material.”
Translated from Cahiers des Etudes Africaines

Book Description Toby Green has written the first full and the best-documented account of the rise of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. His book shows which African peoples suffered most and why, as well as the effect this had on societies both in Africa and in the colonies of the New World. Green explains how and why new ideologies emerged with the birth of the modern world.

About the Author

Toby Green is currently a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at King’s College London. He has published several books, the most recent of which is Inquisition: The Reign of Fear (2009). His books have been translated into ten languages. He is a director of the Amilcar Cabral Institute for Economic and Political Research. His articles have appeared in History in Africa, the Journal of Atlantic Studies, Journal of Mande Studies and Slavery and Abolition. Green has also written widely for the British press, including book reviews for the Independent and features for Financial Times, the Observer and the Times. He has given lectures at various institutes, including the Universities of Cambridge, Lisbon, Oxford and Paris-Sorbonne; Duke University and the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

  • Item Weight : 1.19 pounds
  • Paperback : 366 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1107634717
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1107634718
  • Dimensions : 6 x 0.92 x 9 inches
  • Publisher : Cambridge University Press; Reprint edition (March 20, 2014)