This week is the eighth annual Open Access Week, and people all over the world are hosting events and liberating archives. For me, on this particular week, open access means sharing a conference paper. Earlier this month, I was privileged to attend a gathering of young scholars at the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation, in Hull, England. Part of the Antislavery Usable Past, a multifaceted, multiyear project funded by the British Government, the workshop brought together those working on both historical and contemporary forms of enslavement. The organizers asked us to reflect on the “lessons and legacies” of previous abolitionist movements. The topics ranged from slavery in the Middle Ages through present-day anti-trafficking and reparations campaigns, and the participants were super friendly and supportive. I got to meet some new European colleagues, and I even got to hang out with Shamere McKenzie, who runs an NGO for slavery survivors. My paper, entitled “John Brown in Africa,” looked at capitalism and the lessons of missionary abolitionism.
Under normal circumstances, I would never publish a conference presentation. They are works-in-progress, lacking proper citations, full of half-baked ideas and assumptions, and directed at a small group of experts – hardly appropriate for the unwashed masses. The paper that follows is no different. Yet the conference message of learning from the past to inform the struggle against slavery (and its legacies) in the present, deserves a wider audience. And the fortuitous conjunction with Open Access Week convinced me to cast aside my objections in this case. So, with all of the customary apologies for its flaws and in the spirit of open access, I will post the full text of my presentation as a separate article. Links embedded in the text will point to some of the original slides that I used in my talk (or the occasional outside reference). And, as always, your comments are welcome.