Teaching history from a global perspective calls for decisions about what to focus on, what to minimize, and what to ignore. Slavery in the Atlantic world definitely falls into the “focus on” category. Its history is integral to the history of capitalism and European colonialism, and for understanding the nature of early democracy and social justice movements. It is also integral to understanding contemporary debate about commemoration, for understanding wealth inequality in the Americas, and ideas about race. It’s no wonder that slavery is an important topic in LABR 2P93, the global labour history course I am teaching for Brock University’s Department of Labour Studies.
When lecturing about slavery in the Atlantic world I raise the issue of source material. Much of the primary source material for this history was created by individuals and institutions involved in the slave trade, and in maintaining slaves as an oppressed underclass of workers. There is an abundance of anti-slavery source material too, including the publications and records of the transnational abolitionist movement that emerged in the eighteenth-century. My point of emphasis is that records from both of these perspectives offer insight into the past, and must be read critically.