This book is a festschrift for Christopher Schmidt-Nowara, who died in 2015. Nowara’s innovation was to place the history of nineteenth-century slavery in Cuba and Puerto Rico within the broader context of the Spanish Empire. Consistent with the spirit of his work, Atlantic Transformations invites another change of historical scale to revisit the topics of slavery and empire, moving from Nowara’s imperial approach to an even broader analytical framework based on the concept of the second slavery.
Originally proposed by Tomich, second slavery is an analytical category intended to trace the expansion of black slavery in the nineteenth-century U.S. South, Cuba, and Brazil within the historical context of growing global industrial economies and post-colonial states. After the Age of Revolution, the social and material organization of black slavery went through qualitative and quantitative transformations, thus becoming key to processes of both the accumulation of capital and the organization of state power. One of the concept’s greatest assets is its capacity to shed light on the interplay of local socioecological conditions, political actions, and global processes across distinct scales of time and space.
The concept of second slavery is partially indebted to the world-system perspective, the generative conceptual powerhouse that recasts empirical data as world-historical processes, as in Arrighi’s systemic cycles of accumulation, McMichael’s food regime, and Moore’s commodity frontiers.1 It breaks down disciplinary boundaries. Instead of giving its body and soul to a passionate calculation of profitability that isolates the plantation from social processes of accumulation (as New Economic historians usually do), the second-slavery paradigm allows for the substantive incorporation of a wide range of interdisciplinary approaches, covering themes ranging from geopolitics to ideology, state power, social action, and world accumulation. Engaging freely with the concept, the contributors to this collection embark upon revisiting imperial history, particularly that of Spain, Schmidt-Nowara’s specialty.
Josep Fradera argues that post-revolutionary Atlantic Empires rebuilt themselves by politically managing the future of slavery, abolition, and individual rights. Albert García-Balañà explores the connections of race, governance, and slavery during the Spanish invasion of Morocco (1859–1860) and Santo Domingo (1861–1865). Marcela Echeverri and Javier Laviña take their analyses to societies where the second slavery played no direct role: Echeverri makes the point that mainland Spanish America should be better integrated into the second-slavery framework, and Laviña shows the failure of creating a colonial slave society in Panama due to local adversities. Anne Eller and Luis Miguel García Mora examine, respectively, how the crisis of the second slavery shaped imperial policies for labor control in Santo Domingo in the 1860s and Cuba two decades later. José Antonio Piqueras explores Spain’s political protection of the transatlantic slave trade to Cuba after its formal abolition (1820) and how it became a major issue uniting Spain and Cuba into the 1860s. Finally, Tomich and Rafael Marquese describe the global and local conditions for the take-off of Brazil as the main player in the world coffee markets during the nineteenth century.
Despite their distinct standpoints, what brings these authors to a common ground is the notion that the complex dynamic changes of slavery should not be reduced to uniscalar analysis nor to unidimensional factors like, say, slave resistance or the profitability of slavery. Nonetheless, most of the contributors take either the Spanish Empire or a specific commodity chain as their unit of analysis. Such approaches do not sufficiently consider the history of capital itself on a global scale, an underexplored theme that the concept of second slavery has the potential to illuminate. All in all, interested readers will find this book a valuable, thoughtful resource for the study of slavery and imperial history in the nineteenth century.
Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century (New York, 1994); Philip McMichael (ed.), Food and Agrarian Orders in the World-Economy (Westport, 1995); Jason Moore, Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital (New York, 2015).