New Book: “Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean”

surv15720

Randy M. Browne’s Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean was published in July 2017 by University of Pennsylvania Press.

Diana Paton (Edinburgh University) explains that “Randy M. Browne’s important study of the late slavery period in Berbice uses a rich, but surprisingly underused, set of sources—reports of the fiscals and protectors of slaves—to take a fresh approach to the study of Caribbean slave societies. Browne is attentive to the multiple dynamics of power and the complexity of the situation of many enslaved people.”

Vincent Brown (author of The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery) writes: “Drawing upon a remarkable archive of protests by the enslaved, Randy M. Browne thoroughly reimagines the politics of slavery. Listening intently to his sources, he carefully teases out the slaves’ multifaceted struggle for survival in some of the most brutal conditions ever known. This illuminates the elemental nature of political striving, enhancing our understanding of the fundamental aspirations, strategies, and negotiations of a subjugated people who nevertheless continued to fight. [. . .]”

Description: Atlantic slave societies were notorious deathtraps. In Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean, Randy M. Browne looks past the familiar numbers of life and death and into a human drama in which enslaved Africans and their descendants struggled to survive against their enslavers, their environment, and sometimes one another. Grounded in the nineteenth-century British colony of Berbice, one of the Atlantic world’s best-documented slave societies and the last frontier of slavery in the British Caribbean, Browne argues that the central problem for most enslaved people was not how to resist or escape slavery but simply how to stay alive.

Guided by the voices of hundreds of enslaved people preserved in an extraordinary set of legal records, Browne reveals a world of Caribbean slavery that is both brutal and breathtakingly intimate. Field laborers invoked abolitionist-inspired legal reforms to protest brutal floggings, spiritual healers conducted secretive nighttime rituals, anxious drivers weighed the competing pressures of managers and the condition of their fellow slaves in the fields, and women fought back against abusive masters and husbands. Browne shows that at the core of enslaved people’s complicated relationships with their enslavers and one another was the struggle to live in a world of death.

Provocative and unflinching, Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean reorients the study of Atlantic slavery by revealing how differently enslaved people’s social relationships, cultural practices, and political strategies appear when seen in the light of their unrelenting struggle to survive.

Randy M. Browne teaches history at Xavier University.

For information, see http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/15720.html

[Many thanks to Petr Jordens for bringing this tem to our attention.]

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