Marcus Rediker has written a fascinating new history of the transatlantic slave trade, The Slave Ship: A Human History. His approach is to focus on the slave ship as a social institution and a window into the slave trade itself.

The Slave Ship is reviewed today in the New York Times by Adam Hochschild, who himself wrote such well-regarded books as King Leopold’s Ghost, about the Congo under Belgian colonial rule, and Bury the Chains, about the British abolitionist movement. Hochschild offers a very favorable review of The Slave Ship, calling the book “masterly” and writing that Rediker mines the historical evidence on the transatlantic slave trade “more thoroughly than anyone else to date.”

Rediker spends several pages in the book on James D’Wolf and his family, and Hochschild picks up on the story of Senator D’Wolf as an example of how universally accepted slave-trading was in that age, and how respectable slave-traders could become. Hochschild goes on to express a view which is held by several of us who participated in Traces of the Trade:

This complex tissue of normality makes one wonder what aspects of our own everyday business-as-usual people will, a century or two from now, be considered as horrendous as we think the slave trade was.

This statement reminds me of a line spoken by my cousin Elizabeth in the film, with which I wholeheartedly agree (even thought she and I might point to different aspects of our society to illustrate this point):

You know, there’s stuff that goes on today that we all accept as normal that isn’t, and in a hundred years people might be looking at the same exact way [as slavery]. I buy stuff that’s made by people that aren’t getting paid what they’re worth at all, all the time ….

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