The Rise of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Western Africa, 1300-1589

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The region between the river Senegal and Sierra Leone saw the first trans-Atlantic slave trade in the sixteenth century. Drawing on many new sources, Toby Green challenges current quantitative approaches to the history of the slave trade. New data on slave origins can show how and why Western African societies responded to Atlantic pressures. Green argues that answering these questions requires a cultural framework and uses the idea of creolization – the formation of mixed cultural communities in the era of plantation societies – to argue that preceding social patterns in both Africa and Europe were crucial. Major impacts of the sixteenth-century slave trade included political fragmentation, changes in identity, and the reorganization of ritual and social patterns. The book shows which peoples were enslaved, why they were vulnerable, and the consequences in Africa and beyond.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Many current scholars lay claim to a trans-national and cross-cultural 'Atlantic' history but very few have brought together the detail, scope, and vision of Toby Green. This remarkable book, focusing on Cabo Verde, Senegambia, and Upper Guinea, reveals how Iberian imperial authorities, a New Christian/Crypto-Jewish diaspora, and African economic and political agents combined to produce a wide-ranging early modern order of commerce and cultural identity around the violence of the slave trade."
Ralph Austen, University of Chicago

"In this original and thoroughly researched study, Green recasts our understanding of the early years of Africa’s engagement with Atlantic merchants. He 'Africanizes' Atlantic history by showing that a cultural framework established in Africa before the Portuguese 'discoveries', which began in the 1440s, influenced the nature of African-European exchanges for more than a century. In so doing, Green crafts a 'culturally centered approach', which stands in contrast to quantitative approaches popular in much recent scholarship. He also shows that a widely held view that a region known as Upper Guinea was relatively unimportant in the early years of Atlantic exchange is incorrect. Patterns set in Upper Guinea shaped the unfolding of the history of the slave trade, of racist ideologies, and of creolization or cultural mixing. Well written and well argued, Green’s is a story that had to be told."
Walter Hawthorne, Michigan State University, and author of From Africa to Brazil: Culture, Identity, and an Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600–1830

"Green’s book is learned and wide-ranging. It is also deeply humane and marked by an imaginative empathy of rare quality. The result is one of the best and most rewarding works I have read on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This is a major contribution to West African and Atlantic history and marks Green as a scholar to watch."
T. C. McCaskie, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

"[This book] makes a significant contribution to historical understanding of the beginnings of European trade in Africa and places the Cape Verde islands in their rightful place at the centre of this important story. It will interest scholars of the Atlantic World and a general audience interested in European expansion and maritime trade."
Journal of World History

"A study of an impressive wealth of material."
Translated from Cahiers des Etudes Africaines

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781107014367
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 10/31/2011
  • Series: African Studies Series, #118
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 366
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Toby Green is currently a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at King's College London. He has published several books, the most recent of which is Inquisition: The Reign of Fear (2009). His books have been translated into ten languages. He is a director of the Amilcar Cabral Institute for Economic and Political Research. His articles have appeared in History in Africa, the Journal of Atlantic Studies, Journal of Mande Studies and Slavery and Abolition. Green has also written widely for the British press, including book reviews for the Independent and features for Financial Times, the Observer and the Times. He has given lectures at various institutes, including the Universities of Cambridge, Lisbon, Oxford and Paris-Sorbonne; Duke University and the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

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Table of Contents

Part I. The Development of an Atlantic Creole Culture in Western Africa, c.1300–1500: 1. Culture, trade, and diaspora in pre-Atlantic West Africa; 2. The formation of early Atlantic societies in Senegambia and Upper Guinea; 3. The settlement of Cabo Verde and early signs of Creolization in Western Africa; 4. The new Christian diaspora in Cabo Verde and the rise of a Creole culture in Western Africa; 5. The new Christian/Kassanké alliance and the consolidation of Creolization; Part II. Creolization and Slavery: Western Africa and the Pan-Atlantic, c.1492–1589: 6. The early trans-Atlantic slave trade from Western Africa; 7. Trading ideas and trading people: the boom in the contraband trade from Western Africa, c.1550–80; 8. Cycles of war and trade in the African Atlantic, c.1550–80; 9. Creole societies and the pan-Atlantic in late sixteenth-century Western Africa and America; Part III. Conclusion: 10. Lineages, societies, and the slave trade in Western Africa to 1589.

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