Reading “Accounting for Slavery”

Rosen­thal, C. Caitlin. (2018). Account­ing for Slav­ery: Mas­ters and Man­age­ment. Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, Cam­bridge MA. 

I’ve read a num­ber of Caitlin Rosen­thal’s aca­d­e­m­ic papers and have been antic­i­pat­ing this book for a while. The book does­n’t dis­ap­point. It cements and builds on her past work, and draws her insight­ful ideas togeth­er. Rosen­thal con­vinc­ing­ly shows how the sys­tems of account­ing used in the (large­ly) ante­bel­lum South­ern States of the US served to man­age (and mas­ter) slaves, method­i­cal­ly sus­tain­ing the vio­lence we know too well.

I par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoyed Rosen­thal’s care­ful exam­i­na­tion of the paper-based records, show­ing in detail how forms, tables and cal­cu­la­tions objec­ti­fied peo­ple’s bod­ies as machin­ery in a cap­i­tal project, in effect autho­ris­ing the bru­tal­i­ty. What I’d real­ly like to see in any future work is how this line of inquiry ties into con­tem­po­rary slave stud­ies, with its strong and vital nar­ra­tive forms. This will no doubt present a chal­lenge, but one worth pursuing.

Book cover for Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management - Caitlin Rosenthal
Account­ing for Slav­ery:
Mas­ters and Man­age­ment
Caitlin Rosen­thal.

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