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Padraic X. Scanlan

Padraic X. Scanlan

The Wallace K. Ferguson Prize


Padraic X. Scanlan, Freedom’s Debtors: British Antislavery in Sierra Leone in the Age of Revolution.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017.

Padraic X. Scanlan’s Freedom’s Debtors: British Antislavery in Sierra Leone in the Age of Revolution explores British abolitionism within the context of Sierra Leone but more than that he argues that abolitionism was connected to the imperial project of expansion and colonialism.  He provides a view of the way that histories of British slavery and emancipation looked like from the vantage point of West Africa. He presents both the slave trade and the campaign to end it as having a common root in the logic of capitalism which he defines as “a system of money and power dictating who worked where, on what terms and to whose benefit.” As such he presents the abolition of the slave trade in Sierra Leone as forging the logic of British liberty as defined by capital investment, control of labour and property ownership. Based on exhaustive research within British missionary and personal papers as well as documents in the Sierra Leone archives, this compellingly written study breaks conceptual ground and charts a new historiographical direction.  Scanlan makes connections between the logic of capitalism and its intersection with colonialism and slavery. He demonstrates how British West Africa was enmeshed with economic systems at a global level and by taking the focus away from Europe, he challenges the prevailing narratives of abolitionism and colonialism. His argues convincingly that without slavery, without colonial “outposts,” capitalism and freedom might have evolved differently.  This compelling book makes a huge contribution to our understanding of the processes which led to abolition but has wider implications for the historiography and the paradigms that inform it.

Shortlisted Books

Roisin CossarClerical Households in Late Medieval Italy. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2017.
John Forrester and Laura Cameron.  Freud in Cambridge.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.
Behnaz MirzaiA History of Slavery and Emancipation in Iran, 1800-1929.  Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017.
Lisa M. ToddSexual Treason in Germany during the First World War.  Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.