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Slavery, Then & Now: A Reading List

By Dr. Elizabeth Swanson & Dr. James Brewer Stewart


Plantation Slavery and Abolition, and Their Legacies in the Americas

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, (New York: The New Press, 2010).
Chronicles the targeting of black men through the “War on Drugs” and the transformation of United States prisons into a stringent system of racial control

Baptist, Edward E., The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American
Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, 2014).
A powerful examination of American slavery that emphasizes the emotional and physical impact of the institution on the enslaved. Rather that recounting chronology, Baptist aims at exposing the reader to the actual horrors and suffering.

Beckert, Sven, Empire of Cotton: A Global History, (New York: Vintage, 2014).
A historical examination of the counterpoint between cotton production, enslavement and the development of global capitalism

Berlin, Ira, Generations of Captivity: A History of African American Slaves, (Cambridge,
MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003).
A comprehensive scholarly examination of the development and evolution of African American enslavement from 1700 onward

Berlin, Ira, The Long Emancipation: The Demise of Slavery in the United States,
(Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2015).
Presents the history of slave emancipation in the United States while stressing its gradual elimination in the north as well as the struggle for emancipation in the south

Blackmon, Douglas A., Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black
Americans from the Civil War to World War II, (New York: Anchor Press, 2008).
An authoritative historical account of the re-enslavement of post-Civil War African Americans through systems of convict leasing, debt peonage, and mass incarceration

Blight, David, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge, MA:
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002).
Examines how post-Civil War Americans explained that war to themselves and one another in terms of race, region, and nationality

Child, Denis, Slaves of the State: Black Incarceration from the Chain Gang to the
Penitentiary, (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2015).
An in depth, interdisciplinary investigation of the origins, evolution and impact of the contemporary carceral state

Daniel, Pete R. The Shadow of Slavery: Peonage in the South, 1901-1969,
(Champaign-Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990).
Examines the history of debt peonage as a method of reenslavement of emancipated African Americans

Davis, David Brion, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation, (New York: Vintage, 2014).

Davis, David Brion, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1823 (New
York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Davis, David Brion, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Ithaca, NY: Cornell
University Press, 1966).

Davis, David Brion, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World,
(Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).
The author of these four volumes is recognized the world over for his richly informed transnational accounts of the problem of slavery in the western world from the middle ages through the end of the American Civil War

Drescher, Seymour, Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery, (Cambridge and
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
A detailed history of the rise and evolution of western abolitionist movements from the late 18th century onward

Eltis, David and Richardson, David, The Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).
The authoritative historical source of the size, scope and dynamics of the Atlantic Slave trade

Foner, Eric, “Nothing but Freedom”: Emancipation and its Legacies, (Baton Rouge,
Louisiana State University Press, 1987).
Traces the evolution of post-emancipation black labor in the southern United States in local, regional and comparative settings

Glickstein, Jonathan, Concepts of Free Labor in Antebellum America, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991).
A historical analysis of American beliefs regarding free and slave labor that illuminates abolitionists’ perceptions and moral judgments

Hartman, Saidiya, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth Century America, (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).
A close examination of rituals of dominance practiced by antebellum slaveholders and expressions of resistance by the enslaved

Landis, Michael Todd. Northern Men with Southern Loyalties: The Democratic Party and the Sectional Crisis, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014).
A comprehensive assessment of how enslavers ruled the antebellum Democratic Party and how Northern Democrats were willing tools in the spread of slavery.

LeFlouria, Talitha, L., Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016).
A scholarly historical examination of the reenslavement of African American women in the Deep South and their responses to their exploitation

Oshinsky, David M. “Worse Than Slavery”: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim
Crow Justice, (New York: Free Press, 1996).
An in-depth historical portrayal of post-emancipation southern enslavement as practiced on one particularly notorious state prison.

Sharpe, Christina, Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects, (Durham and
London: Duke University Press, 2010).
An exploration of how sexual violence and sadism have constructed both black and white subjectivity during the era of plantation slavery and beyond

Sinha, Manisha. The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016).
A truly comprehensive history of the American abolition movement, from the colonial period up through the Civil War, including blacks and whites, men and women, intellectuals and activitsts.

Stewart, James Brewer, Holy Warriors: The Abolitionists and American Slavery, (New
York: Hill and Wang, 1997).
An accessible history of the American abolitionist movement, notable for its focus on the role of women in the movement

Human Trafficking and Contemporary Global Slavery

Augustin, Laura María, Sex at the Margin: Migration, Labor Markets and the Rescue
Industry, (London: Zed Books, 2007).
Critiques the “savior complex” that motivates some opponents of sexual enslavement and offers a careful investigation of what motivates those who become sex workers

Bales, Kevin, Disposable People: The New Slavery and the Global Economy, 3rd ed.,
(Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012).
Offers an accessible overall introduction to the problem of today’s slavery

Bales, Kevin, Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret of Saving the
World, (New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2016).
Explores linkages between enslavement and the destruction of natural environments, arguing that abolitionist activism is also environmental activism.

Bales, Kevin, Ending Slavery: How We Free Today’s Slaves, (Berkeley and Los Angeles:
University of California Press, 2008).
Develops the case for a global economic strategy for eliminating contemporary slavery

Bales, Kevin, Zoe Trodd, and Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World
of 27 Million People, (New York: One World Press, 2009).
An overview accompanied by statistics of the various forms of enslavement across the globe

Bales, Kevin and Ron Soodalter, The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery
in America Today, (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2010).
An instructive introduction to the problem of slavery in the 21st century within the United States

Bales, Kevin and Zoe Trodd, To Plead Our Own Cause: Personal Stories of Today’s
Slaves, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009).
Presents a rich and varied collection of personal testimony given by survivors of contemporary slavery

Brysk, Alison and Austin Choi-Firzpatrick, From Human Trafficking to Human
Rights: Reframing Contemporary Slavery, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).
Effectively critiques overly broad and or/ restrictive definitions of contemporary slavery and argues for the application of human rights approaches

Choi-Fitzpatrick, Austin, What Slaveholders Think: How Contemporary Perpetrators
Rationalize What They Do, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017).
Craig, Gary ed., Child Slavery Now: A Contemporary Reader, (Bristol, UK and Portland,
Or: Policy Press, 2010).
Essays by nineteen leading authorities convey a global picture of child slavery and offer strategies for opposing it

Davidson, Julia O’Connell, Modern Slavery: The Margins of Freedom, (London and New
York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).
A comprehensive critique of the “modern abolitionist” movement’s ideological and programmatic inconsistencies that argues for human rights solutions to problems of labor exploitation

Duane, Anna Mae, ed., Child Slavery before and after Emancipation: An Argument for
Child-Centered Studies of Slavery, (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017).
Eleven original essays consider child slavery in historical and contemporary contexts while examining ethical and definitional problems within the field of slavery studies more generally

Hoang, Kimberly Kay and Rhacel Salazar Parrenas, eds. Human Trafficking
Reconsidered: Rethinking the Problem, Envisioning New Solutions, (New York: International Debate Education Association Press, 2014).
Original essays that analyze the effectiveness of current anti-trafficking regimes and the problems facing anti-trafficking advocates on the ground

Kara, Siddharth, Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia, (New
York: Columbia University Press, 2014).
An extended account based on personal experience and governmental reports of the many forms of labor exploitation practiced in India, Pakistan and Nepal

Kara, Siddharth, Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, (New York:
Columbia University Press, 2010).
A broad survey of sexual enslavement grounded in personal observations and detailed with statistics derived from governmental and law enforcement agencies

Kempadoo, Kamala, Trafficking and Prostitution Reconsidered: New Perspectives on Migration, Sex Work, and Human Rights, 2nd ed., (New York: Routledge, 2015).
A critique of the “moralizing” and “sensationalized” impulses of the anti-trafficking movement, using field research to show how many trafficking victims are actually migrants with varying relationships to sex work—and with much more individual agency than the current anti-trafficking movement grants to its “innocent victims.”

Linden, Marcus van Der and Magaley Rodriguez Garcia, eds., On Coerced Labor: Work
and Compulsion after Slavery, (Boston and Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers,
A collection of scholarly essays that examines coercive forms of post-emancipation labor substitution that have persisted into our time

Miers, Suzanne, Slavery in the 20th Century: The Evolution of a Global Problem, (New
York: Altamira Press, 2003).
Places modern slavery in comparative historical context while tracing the development of the international anti-slavery movement over the last hundred years

Miller, Joseph C., The Problem of Slavery as History: A Global Approach, (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 2012).
A challenging historical critique of conventional academic understandings of slavery in the past and today that proposes radically new approaches

Murphy, Laura, ed., Survivors of Slavery: Modern Day Slave Narratives, (New York:
Columbia University Press, 2014).
An accessible collection of first-hand testimony of slavery survivors from many walks of life

Patterson, Orlando, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study, (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1982).
An influential historical analysis of enslavement that defines that condition as “social death”

Quirk, Joel, The Antislavery Project: From the Slave Trade to Human Trafficking,
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).
A comprehensive, substantial historical examination of the evolution of abolitionist movements in response to evolving manifestations of slavery

Resendez, Andre, The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in
America, (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2016).
A path-breaking account of the enslavement of Indian peoples throughout the northern hemisphere from the time of the conquistadors into the twentieth century.

Shelley, Louise, Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective, (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
Presents a global picture of contemporary slavery while employing a historical approach that explains national and regional variations

Skinner, E. Benjamin, A Crime So Monstrous: Face to Face with Modern Slavery, (New
York: Free Press, 2008).
A compelling personal account of a journalist’s personal encounters with contemporary slavery

Samarasinghe, Vidyamali, Female Sex Trafficking in Asia: The Resilience of Patriarchy
in a Changing World, (New York: Routledge, 2008).
A feminist, field-research based exploration of sex trafficking in Nepal, Cambodia, and Philippines, focusing on strategies for combatting such exploitation

Walters, Ronald. The Antislavery Appeal: Abolition after 1831, (Baltimore: The Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1978.
A wide ranging analysis of American abolitionists’ ideological convictions regarding religion, family economy, sexuality, and enslavement

Wong, Kent and Monroe, Julie, Sweatshop Slaves: Asian Americans and the Garment
Industry, (Los Angeles: UCLA Center for Labor Research Education, 2006).
Focuses on Asian American workers in the garment industry, particularly in California, and the organizations that have worked to eradicate sweatshops

Wright, Robert E. The Poverty of Slavery: How Unfree Labor Pollutes the Economy, (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2017).
An analysis of the stultifying consequences of enslavement, past and present, for growth and diversification in national economies


Elizabeth Swanson, Ph.D., is Professor of English and Chair of the Arts and Humanities Division at Babson College in Wellesley, MA. Author of Beyond Terror: Gender, Narrative, Human Rights (Rutgers University Press 2007), she is the author of many articles on human rights, gender studies, and literature, and co-editor of several edited collections on literature and human rights.


Dr. James Brewer Stewart is the James Wallace Professor Emeritus at Macalester College, founder of Historians Against Slavery, and leading authority on American history.  His book on abolitionism, Holy Warriors: The Abolitionists and American Slavery, is a must-read classic.

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