Eric HerschthalFeb 11, 2022
The Science of Abolition
How Slaveholders Became the Enemies of Progress
Yale University Press 2022
In the context of slavery, science is usually associated with slaveholders' scientific justifications of racism. But abolitionists were equally adept at using scientific ideas to discredit slaveholders.
Looking beyond the science of race, The Science of Abolition: How Slaveholders Became the Enemies of Progress (Yale UP, 2021) shows how Black and white scientists and abolitionists drew upon a host of scientific disciplines--from chemistry, botany, and geology, to medicine and technology--to portray slaveholders as the enemies of progress. From the 1770s through the 1860s, scientists and abolitionists in Britain and the United States argued that slavery stood in the way of scientific progress, blinded slaveholders to scientific evidence, and prevented enslavers from adopting labor-saving technologies that might eradicate enslaved labor.
While historians increasingly highlight slavery's centrality to the modern world, fueling the rise of capitalism, science, and technology, few have asked where the myth of slavery's backwardness comes from in the first place. This book contends that by routinely portraying slaveholders as the enemies of science, abolitionists and scientists helped generate that myth.
Adam McNeil is a Ph.D. Candidate in History at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.