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Professor @ University of Warwick


David Lambert is Professor of Caribbean History and Director of the Humanities Research Centre at the University of Warwick. His research is concerned with slavery and empire in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and their legacies, focusing on the Caribbean and its place in the wider (Atlantic) world. He is the author of Mastering the Niger: James MacQueen’s African Geography and the Struggle over Atlantic Slavery (University of Chicago Press, 2013) and White Creole Culture, Politics and Identity during the Age of Abolition (Cambridge University Press, 2005), and the editor of Empire and Mobility in the Long Nineteenth Century (Manchester University Press, 2020) and Colonial Lives Across the British Empire: Imperial Careering in the Long Nineteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 2006). He is currently writing a book on the changing image of the West India Regiments over the ‘long’ nineteenth century. He is one of the editors of the journal Slavery & Abolition and is former editor of Atlantic 33 Studies: Global Currents.

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Crossing Borders


Towards a More-than-human History of Caribbean Slavery

The slave societies of the Caribbean were a complex assemblage of human and non- human elements. Labour power was provided by humans and animals, while discourses of ‘stock keeping’ and ‘breeding’ blurred the line between them. At the heart of this entanglement was the system of racialised slavery, which reduced people to chattel and tried to deny their humanity. At the same time, certain animals played an important role in maintaining the system of slavery, while the slaveholders sought to express their mastery through dominion over humans and non-humans alike. Historians of slave societies in the Caribbean have been slow to embrace the ‘animal turn’ and calls for less anthropocentric histories. This is not only because their sources marginalise non- humans – an issue they are well placed to address because enslaved people are rendered silent in some similar ways. Rather, many historians are deeply committed to ‘giving the slaves back their agency’ (Johnson, 2003). In this light, a focus on non- humans may appear to be, at worst, an abandonment of a historical project that ought to be centred on recovering the humanity of the enslaved. This paper argues that it does not have to be this way. Drawing on work in animal studies, including those who use the discourse of slavery to critique animal-human relations, this paper examines the interplay between the human and animal elements of slave societies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to outline a more-than-human history of slavery that is ‘social’ in its widest sense.

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