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Abstract

This thesis examines the relationship between popular history and the misleading narratives about trans-Atlantic slavery, through an archival and ethnographic analysis of slavery history. Several generations of false textbook narratives and convenient whitewashing of historical accounts have given birth to a multitude of erroneous accounts of the Atlantic slave trade and slavery. Some narratives have been corrected in academic canon through rigorous archival investigation and ethnography; however, the widespread narrative that has had a pernicious life—not even an afterlife—in contemporary discourses is the notion that ‘Africans sold their own kinfolk into slavery.’ Neither textbook accounts nor academic scholarship have reached a consensus on the language or vocabulary necessary to address the African role in the Atlantic slave trade. Using archival investigation, semi-structured interviews, and online ethnography, I examine the relationship between academic scholarship, textbook history, and informal discourses on slavery and show that the narrative of wholesale African blame for the slave trade has negatively impacted Black intra-racial relations between Black diasporic groups in the United States. I also explain how textbook accounts gloss over essential facts about Atlantic slavery: (1) the chattelization of enslaved Africans of various ethnic and ethnoreligious differences; (2) U.S. and European implied allowances for slavery and slave trading long after abolition efforts were made; (3) the frequency of slave rebellions in the Americas; and (4) the logics of slaveholding societies in Brazil and the Caribbean that are deeply linked to the conditions of slavery in the United States.

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