14 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Double Insight: the Slave Trade and the Academic Mind,
This review is from: The Diligent: A Voyage Through the Worlds of the Slave Trade (Hardcover)
As a history of one voyage of one French ship in the 18th century slave trade, this is an easy to read, insightful book. The book is based upon the journal of First Lieutenant Robert Durand, a member of the crew. The journal only surfaced in 1984. The reader will be richly rewarded, not only with insight into an important moment in history, but also into the contemporary academic mind. Consider these two sentences of Mr. Harms in the preface, "Robert Durand's journal tells the story of a great crime. It began with the departure of a converted grain ship from the French city of Vannes on May 31, 1731 and ended with the trial of The Diligent's captain, Pierre Mary, in the Admiralty Court of Vannes in February, 1733." The context makes it clear that Mr. Harms uses the word "crime" in the first sentence to refer to the slave trade. And the second sentence conveys the impression that this is the "crime" for which the ship's captain was put on trial. But as the reader later learns the captain was tried for commiting fraud upon the ship's owner, not for his role in the slave trade which, at that time, was legal everywhere in the world. This sentence and others throughout the book indicate that the author's purpose is not merely to give an account of this particular episode in the slave trade, but also to condemn it with modern moral sensibilities. My only complaint is that a wiser professor would understand that each generation has an infinite capacity to rationalize its own behaviors and customs. Mr. Harms' practice of constantly reassuring us that he does not personally approve of slave trading is of no help to our historical understanding. We don't approve of slave trading either. We all suspect that the world might be better today if slavery had ended about 1000 years earlier than it did. But we would like to know what happened, what those at the time thought about it, and its impact on later times. So long as Mr. Harms keeps his eye on that ball, it is a great book. I suppose that any member of the faculty of a university would have to inject a certain amount of moral condemnation in a book on the slave trade in order to assure continued invitations to cocktail parties. Too bad.
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Initial post: Sep 1, 2010 7:43:41 AM PDT
Joseph A. Balbona says:
Mr. Wills is under the mistaken impression that slavery has ended. It is well known that there are greater numbers of slaves today than at any time in human history.
Posted on Aug 2, 2012 6:04:30 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 2, 2012 6:23:42 PM PDT
Mr. Balbona is right: slavery is still with us. It went underground for much of the 20th century, or was called by other names (peonage, prison labor, etc). Abetted by economic globalization, it's now more pernicious than ever, though usually hidden from view. Cf. K. Bales, "Disposable People," & on slaving more generally, J. Miller, "The Problem of Slavery as History."
At least this mistake by the reviewer makes more sense than the snide remarks about academia.
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