One of the projects on which I am working is a history of the law of slavery in practice.
You may think that you know the broad outlines of the story of slavery – at least in respect of the Atlantic slave trade.
But this short video – for which both script and animation are first-rate – is instructive and revealing, and it should be watched by anyone trying to understand the lasting effects of that trade on the world today.
The video looks at slavery from an African perspective – and emphasises two things that are sometimes missed.
First, how the European slave traders themselves created the demand for the selling of slaves – so that, for example, the capturing of prisoners within Africa for selling on to traders went from being a by-product of wars in Africa to the purpose of the wars.
Demand created its own supply.
Second, how the end of the slave trade meant that African kingdoms that had been dependent on that trade were then so weak for the period following the abolition of the trade and then slavery itself:
‘When the slave trade was finally outlawed in the Americas and Europe, the African kingdoms whose economies it had come to dominate collapsed, leaving them open to conquest and colonisation.’
And so this how the scramble for Africa in the late-1800s resulted from the slave trade that ended in the early- to mid-1800s.
This is an obvious consequence, if you think about it, and joins together slavery and (formal) colonisation as two linked stages of the same exercise of exploitation.
Africa was first made poor, and then it was taken – with the exploitation becoming also of minerals and resources, as well as of labour.
Had it not been for the earlier slave trade, the story of subsequent European imperialism in Africa may have been significantly different.
One of the curses of an Anglocentric or Eurocentric perspective is that so much of the fuller picture is hidden – or just not looked for.
And this video – and the fuller picture which it shows of markets being created and then cleared – is useful context for the question which I am seeking to address in my research project: how did the legal system and lawyers facilitate slavery?
Slavery was never a mere frolic of a few individual slavers like Edward Colston, but a phenomenon that in turn depended on an immense infrastructure provided by commerce and law.
This video, among other sources, shows how that phenomenon looked in the round.