Cultivation and Culture: Labor and the Shaping of Slave Life in the Americas – Philip D. Morgan (editor)

When historians write about slave labor, they most often make the claim that slave labor varied with time and place. In the case of this book, slave labor is meant to include both the laboring slaves did for their masters as well as the laboring they did for themselves in order to take part in the (independent) slave economy. Reading this book, the authors of each included essay paint a picture of slave labor that looks very much the same: slaves worked for their masters and then slaves worked for themselves in ways that operated so similarly that each essay blended almost identically into the others. Perhaps these similarities speak to the a paucity of sources available about slave labor, particularly the independent slave economy – surely a great deal of reading against the grain is involved. Or perhaps the plantation systems of the Americas were structured so similarly that they bred similar labor regimens. Perhaps slaveowners developed networks of communication and experience that led them to oversee the development of slave labor in similar ways. Perhaps the movement of slaves internally promoted a share expectation of what made up plantation and independent labor. Or perhaps the editors were not careful enough to select essays that would actually show the variety of claimed slave experiences with labor.

All that aside, this book is very useful in instructing the uninitiated reader in the ins and outs of slave labor. But the more informed reader might look elsewhere for more differentiated information on the subject.

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