“Martin Klein has brought together recent work on the abolition of slavery, from Ottoman Turkey to Thailand and from South India to West Africa. This anthology builds on the recent scholarship on both slavery in Asia and Africa and the end of slavery as a world-wide historical phenomenon. Whereas other anthologies have tended to focus on either Africa or Asia, this project brings together in one volume case studies and methodological approaches concerning both regions. Breaking the Chains will be an important part of the relatively sparse literature on emancipation in comparative and global context.”—Richard Roberts, Stanford University
Because the American history of slavery and emancipation tends to be foremost in Western minds, few realize that traditional forms of servitude still exist in a variety of places around the world: children are sold on the streets of Bangkok, bondage persists in India despite official efforts to abolish it, and until 1980 slavery was legal in Mauritania.
Breaking the Chains deals with emancipation in African and Asian societies which were either colonized or came under the domination of European powers in the nineteenth century. In these societies, emancipation involved the imposition on non-European societies of an explicitly European discourse on slavery, and, in most cases, a free labor ideology. Most of the slave masters described in these essays were not European and found European ideas on emancipation difficult to accept.
Against this backdrop, the essayists (many of whom contribute their own non-Western perspective) focus on the transition from slavery (or other forms of bondage) to emancipation. They show that in each case the process involved pressure from European abolition movements, the extension of capitalist relations of production, the concerns and perceptions of the colonial state, and the efforts of non-Western elites to modernize their cultures.
Martin A. Klein argues that the Asian and African experience has much in common with the American experience, particularly in efforts to control labor and family life. The struggle to control the labor of former slaves has often been intense and, he suggests, has had a continuing impact on the social order in former slave societies.