Understanding Historical Slavery, Its Legacies, and Its Lessons for Combating Modern-Day Slavery and Human Trafficking

Reference work entry


Understanding of twenty-first-century slavery and strategies for its prevention and eradication is still often shaped by cursory and Eurocentric conceptualizations of transatlantic slavery and its abolition. This Eurocentric historical understanding tends to be limited in its scope and so typically underplays the centrality of slavery to economic development, downplays the role of the enslaved in resisting their enslavement and securing abolition, and overemphasizes the role of white abolitionists (be they members of the Clapham Saints in Britain or white soldiers of the Union in the USA). The impact of this narrative has been twofold. Firstly, it has helped perpetuate the racial inequalities of transatlantic slavery to the present day by undermining the significance of transatlantic slavery in creating Western prosperity and the racial inequality within and between nations. Secondly, it has helped to shape an understanding of slavery as detached from wider economic, political, and social attitudes which create inequalities and the space in which slavery exists. Furthermore, the celebration of abolition and abolitionists encourages a belief that the problems of modern-day slavery can be addressed through legislation and increased policing that targets human traffickers. Instead, to tackle both the legacies of historical slavery and the forces that create the space for modern-day forms of slavery, it is necessary to address the economic, political, and social inequalities that (at local and global levels) create the conditions and structures which enable modern-day forms of slavery to emerge.


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© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer International Publishing AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wilberforce InstituteUniversity of HullHullUK

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