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Lecture 1

HIST 2055 Lecture Notes - Lecture 1: Tabula Rasa, Pseudoscience, Paternalism


Department
History
Course Code
HIST 2055
Professor
A.Burstein
Lecture
1

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1: What was the experience of the slave in Africa and the New World, and
especially colonial North America, during the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries? How did slavery become an ingrained institution?
Slave trade began as something different than what most people think of when we
think back to the times of slavery. Slavery wasn’t so much of something about race, where as
it was something designed to punish captured convicts. Some prisoners of war even sold
themselves into the slave trade because they were so poor.
In the early 1400’s, European explorers made their way to Africa, where they found
an abundance of resources like gold, spice, and above all, people of a new race and culture.
The front-runner of the slave trade was Portugal, who soon set up slave trading posts in
places like Sierra Leone, Congo, and Liberia. By the year 1550, the slave trade had expanded
to the western hemisphere where European empires had come into nations like Brazil and the
West Indies to set up sugar plantations. Soon slave trade was the most profitable form of
trade.
When it came time for slaves to be utilized in the colonies, only about 5% of slaves
actually made it to the colonies. The other 95% went to places in the Caribbean where they
were made stronger and better suited for the plantations in the colonies. By this time,
expeditions to Africa were being made solely for the purpose of buying and selling slaves.
As slaves were coming in to the new world, they didn’t really see themselves as
someone of a different race, but more of someone of a new people. Institutionalized racism
grew in the late 17th and 18th century when skin pigmentation started defining behavioral
characteristics of slaves. These slaves, unlike the Native Americans of North America, were
seen as people who could not be assimilated. As slaves forged a new identity in this new
world, they kept some cultural aspects with them, sharing knowledge with settlers and their
children, but some remained in Africa.
On plantations, the slave owners felt this sort of family figure form when they had
slaves living among them. The term “paternalism” is meant as the way these owners felt
about their salves. Paternalism was a sort of system set up to reward slaves for good
behavior, but also punish them for their misconduct. In return for a slaves hard work and
loyalty, the owners would reward them with their payment and eventually their freedom.
Some slaves took this to another level by manipulating this system. Some would go to the
extremes by cutting off their hands in order to prove that they were now their master’s
responsibility.
Most slave owners saw themselves as the undoubtedly more superior and more
intelligent race, therefore they thought they were helping this “less evolved and helpless”
race of people.
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