Institute for the Study of Slavery

Dr Sascha Auerbach discusses 'The Legacies of Slavery' in new video.

“Slavery and the slave trade... were crucial to the British economy in the 19th century.”   

Dr Sascha Auerbach, Director of the Institute for the Study of Slavery, discusses ‘The Legacies of Slavery’ in a new video on Faculti.Net.

Dr Auerbach discusses how the outlawing of the slave trade in Britain in 1807 and then across the Empire in 1834 impacted Britain's economy and society. One of the first to raise this debate was historian Eric Williams, who argued that as the Caribbean economy went into relative decline in the final decades of the nineteenth century, the pro-slavery political lobby lost its power and ability to defend the institution. The lobby could not preserve the protectionist trade policies that made its products competitive in an increasingly globalized market.  

Other historians however, Seymour Drescher in particular, have argued that slave trade went into decline after abolition, and that the outlawing of the trade at its height was "Econocide." Dr Auerbach then discusses how important the slave trade was for the growth of British trade, industry, and general wealth. Some historians argue that the Industrial Revolution could not have happened without the slave trade and the plantation products that were produced through slave-labour. However, others argue that Britain’s economic development was embedded in a broader sphere of trade, finance, and production that encompassed both Continental Europe and Asia. They argue that the "Atlantic Economy" was not, by itself, a large enough sector to drive such a sweeping transformation.   

Dr Auerbach also discusses how, in the wake of abolition and emancipation, Britain positioned itself as the leading abolitionist power and the “moral pioneer” among European nations. This “moral superiority” was a key element of the British Empire’s expansion in the nineteenth century and of the justification of this expansion as a ‘civilising mission’. However, as historians of enslavement have argued, abolition only came after the British had garnered several centuries of profit from the slave trade and the products of slave-labour. Britain's claims to moral superiority over her imperial rivals were further undercut, Dr. Auerbach argues in his new book, The Overseer State (Cambridge, 2024), by the coerced importation of millions of Indian and Chinese indentured labourers to replace former slaves in the global plantation workforce.  

You can watch the video here: 

Posted on Thursday 8th February 2024

Institute for the Study of Slavery

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD