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The Antislavery Debate

Capitalism and Abolitionism as a Problem in Historical Interpretation

Thomas Bender (Editor), John Ashworth (Contributor), David Brion Davis (Contributor), Thomas L. Haskell (Contributor)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 336 pages
ISBN: 9780520077799
June 1992
$31.95, £21.95
This volume brings together one of the most provocative debates among historians in recent years. The center of controversy is the emergence of the antislavery movement in the United States and Britain and the relation of capitalism to this development.

The essays delve beyond these issues, however, to raise a deeper question of historical interpretation: What are the relations between consciousness, moral action, and social change? The debate illustrates that concepts common in historical practice are not so stable as we have thought them to be. It is about concepts as much as evidence, about the need for clarity in using the tools of contemporary historical practice.

The participating historians are scholars of great distinction. Beginning with an essay published in the American Historical Review (AHR), Thomas L. Haskell challenged the interpretive framework of David Brion Davis's celebrated study, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution. The AHR subsequently published responses by Davis and by John Ashworth, as well as a rejoinder by Haskell. The AHR essays and the relevant portions of Davis's book are reprinted here. In addition, there are two new essays by Davis and Ashworth and a general consideration of the subject by Thomas Bender.

This is a highly disciplined, insightful presentation of a major controversy in historical interpretation that will expand the debate into new realms.
Thomas Bender is University Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History at New York University. John Ashworth is Lecturer in American Studies at the University of East Anglia. David Brion Davis is Sterling Professor of History at Yale University. Thomas L. Haskell is Professor of History at Rice University.
"The marrow of the most important historiographical controversy since the 1970s."—Michael Johnson, University of California, Irvine

"A debate of intellectual significance and power. The implications of these essays extend far beyond antislavery, important as that subject undoubtedly is. This will be of major importance to students of historical method as well as the history of ideas and reform movements."—Carl N. Degler, Stanford University

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