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Working the Diaspora: The Impact of African Labor on the Anglo-American World, 1650-1850

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From the sixteenth to early-nineteenth century, four times more Africans than Europeans crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas. While this forced migration stripped slaves of their liberty, it failed to destroy many of their cultural practices, which came with Africans to the New World. In Working the Diaspora, Frederick Knight examines work cultures on both sides of the Atlantic, from West and West Central Africa to British North America and the Caribbean.
Knight demonstrates that the knowledge that Africans carried across the Atlantic shaped Anglo-American agricultural development and made particularly important contributions to cotton, indigo, tobacco, and staple food cultivation. The book also compellingly argues that the work experience of slaves shaped their views of the natural world. Broad in scope, clearly written, and at the center of current scholarly debates, Working the Diaspora challenges readers to alter their conceptual frameworks about Africans by looking at them as workers who, through the course of the Atlantic slave trade and plantation labor, shaped the development of the Americas in significant ways.

ISBN-13: 9780814763698

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: New York University Press

Publication Date: 08-22-2012

Pages: 252

Product Dimensions: 8.80(w) x 5.90(h) x 0.60(d)

Series: CultureLaborHistory #8

Frederick C. Knight is Chair of the Department of History at Morehouse College.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

The book's major scholarly contributions include a diaspora approach linking both sides of the Atlantic, an emphasis on the mental and human dimensions of slave workers, and evidence for multiple contributions of slave workers in making the American plantation."-CHOICE,

"This volume is a significant contribution to a number of different fields, and it is on the cutting edge of Atlantic history, exploring an almost seamless integration of African, African American, and indeed American life."-Simon P. Newman,American Historical Review

"Goes a long way toward giving enslaved African labor deserved recognition for having shaped the Atlantic world." -Journal of World History,

"Working the Diaspora is one of few books about American slavery to take Africa seriously...Knight deserves high praise for telling the story."-Walter Hawthorne,New West Indian Guide

“Historians of African Americans have known for a long time that they were brought to the Americas to labor, but until Frederick Knight’s comprehensive and fascinating account, that labor had never been fully examined. By looking at African labor and especially agricultural skills, Knight shows that a great deal of the work that African Americans did as slaves had its roots in African agricultural processes. Knight’s chapter on the production of indigo is particularly telling on this point, and shows that Africans’ skill was perhaps as important as their muscle in furthering the New World’s agricultural development. While others have explored elements of the role of Africans as skilled farmers before, Knight has brought all this and more together in a compelling and convincing re-evaluation of Africans and their descendants’ role in American life.”
-John K. Thornton,author of Africa and Africans in the Formation of the Atlantic World, 1400-1680

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1 Material Life in West and West Central Africa, 1650-1800 13

2 Seeds of Change: African Agricultural Workers in the Anglo-American Colonies 33

3 Cultivating Knowledge: African Tobacco and Cotton Workers in Colonial British America 65

4 In an Ocean of Blue: West African Indigo Workers in the Atlantic World to 1800 87

5 Slave Artisans: Black Nonagricultural Workers in Colonial America and the Antebellum South 111

6 Natural Worship: Slavery, the Environment, and Black Consciousness in the Antebellum South 131

Notes 155

Bibliography 193

Index 217

About the Author 229