Not Made by Slaves: new book by Dr Bronwen Everill

  • 23 August 2020

A new book written by Dr Bronwen Everill tells how abolitionist businesses from Europe to the United States to West Africa used consumer power to challenge slavery and give rise to a new ethics of international commerce.

Not Made By Slaves: Ethical Capitalism in the Age of Abolition, which will be published in September by Harvard University Press, looks at the years leading up to the Civil War, when many supported the end of slavery by purchasing products that didn’t use slave labour. “In the process,” Dr Everill explains, “these businesses encountered a variety of ethical dilemmas that stemmed from the cross-cultural nature of trade with West Africa, ranging from deciding what kinds of goods could be ethical, to how to detect fraud in ethical trade, to how to pay for goods ethically, to how to use government influence to shape ethical commerce policies.”

Dr Everill says, “Firms like Macaulay & Babington and Brown & Ives promoted an influential middlebrow economic philosophy that ultimately advocated for a global division of land and labour that would be of most benefit to the ethical consumers, rather than to the producers of commodities.”

The book makes a contribution to on-going debates about the relationship between capitalism and ethics, and highlights the ways that West African history can cast new light on the development of nineteenth century political economy.

Shopping for racial justice is still a powerful way to effect change. In a blog about the book on the Harvard University Press website, the history of ethical capitalism is compared with “Buying Black” in today’s society, which aims to improve the circumstances of people in the Black diaspora.

Bronwen, the Class of 1973 Lecturer in History at Caius, has particular research interests in the place of Africa and the role of Africans in the shaping of modern ideas of humanitarianism, empire, commerce, and the economy. Her research has been supported by the Leverhulme Trust, the British Academy, the Royal Historical Society, the Economic History Society, the John Carter Brown Library, the Huntington Library, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Prior to arriving at Cambridge, she held positions at King’s College London, Warwick University, and was Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Transnational History at Oxford University. She received her PhD from King’s College London in 2010.

Her book has already received positive reviews, being described as “A fascinating, well-written book about abolitionists’ efforts to construct an antislavery economic island in a global capitalism system shaped by slavery-generated profit” by Edward E. Baptist, author of The Half Has Never Been Told.

Padraic X. Scanlan, author of Freedom’s Debtors said, “Not Made by Slaves is a surprising, searching, and thoughtful examination of an overlooked but essential problem in the history of slavery and emancipation in the Atlantic world,” and Lisa A. Lindsay, author of Atlantic Bonds said, “Where did fair trade come from? As we learn in this innovative book, it emerged in multiple parts of the nineteenth-century Atlantic world as activists, merchants, and producers grappled with the complications of ending and replacing slavery. This is an important, truly transnational history of the fraught development of capitalism and the politics of ethical consumption that are still with us today.”


You can find out more about Not Made By Slaves: Ethical Capitalism in the Age of Abolition on the HUP website.

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