If you had placed this book into a shiny new coloured cover, I would never have picked it for being written in 1937. It has all the things that I look for in histories that are being written around me today: exploration of big themes through grounded, personalized examples; a sense of place; careful attention to detail through the sources; an attempt to step up out of those same sources into a more literary style; decisiveness in coming to a pithy conclusion, and a judicious use of the presence of the historian him/herself as researcher and commentator.
It’s also a book that attracts my interest as a politically engaged citizen concerned about what a former Prime Minister described as “the greatest moral challenge” of our time- climate change. In reading about the abolition of slavery I’ve been again and again reminded of the parallels between the two. Both climate change and the abolition of slavery involve/d self-inflicted economic pain for a higher long-term purpose; both involve/d well-organized pressure groups with powerful media access; both provoke/d fears that international competitiveness would be hampered; both campaigns stretch/ed out over decades. It may well be that climate change policy, like abolition, may have to accept a compromised ‘solution’ in the short-term as part of a bigger, long-term picture- although of course, in climate change the earth and the systems of its climate will follow their own trajectory, whatever the politics. In the case of the abolition of slavery, the compromise was the Apprenticeship System. Continue reading