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I spend a lot of time in my lectures this week discussing the many connections between the development of modern capitalism, on the one hand, and the Atlantic slave trade and slavery in the British Empire, on the other. Demands for reparations for the ancestors of slavery’s victims from activists, scholars, and Caribbean governments continue to this day and have attracted greater support in recent years. The collaborative digital research project and database, “Legacies of British Slave-Ownership,” also attracted media attention to elite Britons whose ancestors received compensation for the emancipation of their human property from the British government in 1834. Use the short newspaper articles, other pieces, and podcast to reflect on how we should confront and deal with the legacy of race-based slavery–and the histories of inequality that continue long after it–today. 

Episode 2 of the podcast series the History of American Slavery, hosted by Rebecca Onion and Jamelle Bouie, begins with the extraordinary life of Olaudah Equiano, which leads the hosts into an interesting conversation regarding the importance and power but also the limitations of biographies as sources on the past. (Think of their short discussion over whether Equiano was born in Nigeria or the Carolinas.) Equaino’s autobiography is not only one of a very small number of first-person accounts of the Middle Passage and slavery, but it was also a powerful weapon in the battle against the slave trade during his own lifetime, so its significance is undeniable. And yet, as the hosts note, there are some problems with relying solely on one extraordinary life. What are some of the strengths and possible limitations of biography in Equiano’s case? Even if his experiences were not representative of those of the majority of enslaved people, historians like Marcus Rediker argue that it is an invaluable source of the history and experience of the slave trade in general (and not only on the life of Equiano). Why, and what you think about this argument?

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