What Is Slavery?

No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.

- Frederick Douglass, Speech at Civil Rights Mass Meeting, Washington, D.C. (22 October 1883)

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss slavery and empire; two themes that run right through this country’s history. Britain’s imperial project dominated at least the last three centuries of our national life. Its advocates claim it was a civilising mission by which Britain spread enlightenment and improvement across the globe. Opponents have long seen it as a brutal business, with Britons cast as cruel oppressors out to exploit a conquered world. Is our imperial history so clear cut? What if Britons were themselves captives, either as prisoners of an imperial enterprise that sucked them in, generation after generation or, in some startling cases, as slaves to foreign peoples? Is slavery an inevitable part of empire: does it come with the territory? And how did Britain finally shake it off?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Slavery and Empire

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

People think they know everything about slavery in the United States, but they don’t. They think the majority of African slaves came to the American colonies, but they didn’t. They talk about 400 years of slavery, but it wasn’t. They claim all Southerners owned slaves, but they didn’t. Some argue it was all a long time ago, but it wasn’t. . . .

I’ve spent my career dispelling myths about “the peculiar institution.” The goal in my courses is not to victimize one group and celebrate another. Instead, we trace the history of slavery in all its forms to make sense of the origins of wealth inequality and the roots of discrimination today. The history of slavery provides vital context to contemporary conversations and counters the distorted facts, internet hoaxes and poor scholarship I caution my students against...

Continue reading Daina Ramey Berry's article: American slavery: Separating fact from myth

Further Reading

Slavery is any system in which principles of property law are applied to people, allowing individuals to own, buy and sell other individuals, as a de jure form of property. A slave is unable to withdraw unilaterally from such an arrangement and works without remuneration. Many scholars now use the term chattel slavery to refer to this specific sense of legalised, de jure slavery. In a broader sense, however, the word slavery may also refer to any situation in which an individual is de facto forced to work against their own will. Scholars also use the more generic terms such as unfree labour or forced labour to refer to such situations. However, and especially under slavery in broader senses of the word, slaves may have some rights and protections according to laws or customs.

Slavery began to exist before written history, in many cultures. A person could become a slave from the time of their birth, capture, or purchase.

While slavery was institutionally recognized by most societies, it has now been outlawed in all recognized countries, the last being Mauritania in 2007. Nevertheless, there are an estimated 45.8 million people subject to some form of modern slavery worldwide...

Continue reading the Wikipedia article on Slavery

Related Topics

If you’re interested in slavery, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

 Affirmative Action | Colonialism | Freedom | Human Rights | Political Philosophy | Power | Sociology

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