Thesis ID: CBB485703529

Inhuman Empire: Slavery and Nonhuman Animals in the British Atlantic World (2019)


Delbourgo, James (Advisor)
Blakley, Christopher (Author)

Delbourgo, James
Rutgers University
Publication date: 2019
Language: English

Publication Date: 2019
Physical Details: 408

This dissertation examines how material interactions between slaveholders, enslaved people, and nonhuman animals shaped the territorial expansion of the British Empire in the era of the Atlantic slave trade. My project is an environmental history of slavery and slaving from the Royal African Company’s entrance into the castle trade in 1672 through the American Revolution to the abolition of the trade in 1808. I argue that human-animal entanglements generated by slaving constituted a decisive factor in expanding the political, scientific, and economic networks of the empire. Inhuman Empire challenges the predominantly European frame of ecological imperialism by interrogating the ecological, social, and cultural interplay between English enslavers, Atlantic Africans, and animals. I use the theoretical frameworks of eco-cultural networks and modes of interaction to draw out how these relations shaped the expanding geography of slavery in the British Atlantic world. English and African traders exchanged animals as propitiatory sacrifices, gifts, and media of exchange to forge bonds of alliance and commerce on the Gold Coast and the Bight of Benin. Naturalists studying the faunal environments of slave depots from New Spain to North American plantations became slaveholders or relied on the judgment and collecting efforts of enslaved people to gather specimens for natural history collections. On Caribbean and Chesapeake plantations, enslavers raising sugar and tobacco harnessed the labor and bodily energy of slaves and draft animals. However, many animals proved difficult to control in the pursuit of imperial profit. Intractable vermin ruined plantations at alarming rates, and planters produced the category of pests to describe the animals beyond their control. Most importantly, enslaved people resisted their bondage and undermined the institution of slavery by injuring, starving, or stealing animals for their own purposes, while black intellectuals produced critiques of slavery as the foundation of an “inhuman” empire as central to the campaign to abolish the slave trade. The centrality of human-animal networks that supported slaving and slavery is one conclusion of this dissertation, which intervenes in early American environmental history. A second conclusion is that this environmental history provides a valuable materialist account that supports formerly enslaved people’s narratives and experiences of becoming less-than-fully human animalized subjects in the long eighteenth century.

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Authors & Contributors
Barbosa, Benedito Costa
Barnett, Lydia
Beisaw, April M.
Bigelow, Allison Margaret
Bombardi, Fernanda Aires
Carney, Judith Ann
Environmental history
Asclepio: Archivo Iberoamericano de Historia de la Medicina
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
Journal for Maritime Research: Britian, the Sea and Global History
Journal of Early Modern History
Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies
Johns Hopkins University Press
University of Minnesota
College of William and Mary
Michigan State University
Indiana University Press
University of New Mexico Press
Great Britain, colonies
Indigenous peoples; indigeneity
Cross-cultural interaction; cultural influence
Nature and its relationship to culture; human-nature relationships
Adanson, Michel
Barba, Alvaro Alonso
Columbus, Christopher
Dampier, William
Oviedo y Valdés, Gonzalo Fernández
Petiver, James
Time Periods
18th century
17th century
16th century
19th century
20th century
21st century
North America
West Africa
Great Britain
South America
Great Britain. Royal Navy

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