Phillips' book is an attempt to provide an overview of the practice and institutions of slavery in the Americas from its beginnings to the 19th century. Writing in 1918, Phillips hoped to provide an account of slavery based upon historical evidence and modern methods of research, rather than ideological motivations. He drew his evidence from the plantation records and letters of slave owners; contemporary travel accounts; court records and legal documents; newspaper articles; and in some instances, the recordings of slaves themselves, rather than what he viewed as more biased sources such as abolitionist writings. While this approach was not systematic and led him to base many of his conclusions upon subjective evidence and an over reliance upon particular chroniclers of the South, the bulk of his findings are supported by subsequent scholarship.
The book opens up with Genovese's Forward, stating that since WWII many historian have been reading Phillips with "hostility, suspicion, and even contempt" and even worse because they "have not been encouraging their students to read him at all." Phillips begins the book by discussing the beginnings of the use of slaves in the West Indies sugar plantations, and slowly makes his way towards America. The author explains each type of plantation and its cash crop and discusses the areas where slavery was well received or rejected.
In the descriptive portions of his book, Phillips was generally on target but lacked depth. Historians would later take exception to his findings, as they are based more upon his personal beliefs concerning race, rather than documented evidence. The author is mainly concerned with the economic ...
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...ulted in great profits during times of high demand for agricultural products. Phillips states that more research is required in this area.
Despite his racial assumptions, Phillips was certainly no apologist for slavery. He is quick to point out the cruelty and immorality of the system, and is less than persuaded of the greatness of European civilization as an excuse for the enslavement of Africans. Watching the collapse of Europe in WWI and experiencing its effects firsthand may have contributed to his outlook.
While Phillips may be criticized for his racial beliefs and lack of interest in the social dynamics of slavery, in this book he is a product of the times. The fact that he wrote in the interest of scholarship, attempting to produce a work based upon historical evidence makes this book very valuable and is still useful in its basic descriptive findings.
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