The Local and the Coastal: How Slave-Ship Outfitters Understood Atlantic Africa

Status: This talk is in preparation - details may change
Status: This talk has been cancelled

European slave-ship outfitters understood the African coastline in a way that was very different from our contemporary understanding of political entities, topographical regions, or ethnic and linguistic groupings. Slave-ship outfitters saw the coastline in two, diametrically opposite, ways: As a series of discrete marketplaces and as a continuous source of New World slaves. As slave-ship outfitters sought to understand African consumer demand for their merchandise, they were especially attuned to local differences in demand along the Atlantic African coast. Despite these local variations, however, outfitters conceived of the African coast in its entirety, as a singular source of slaves. Slave-ship outfitters might send one boat to Senegal and then the next to the Loango coast, thousands of miles away. Outfitters developed strategies to understand and compete in a complex African marketplace in order to establish both stability and flexibility in the African Atlantic. Outfitters and slave-ship captains also sought to circumvent the coastal market and get closer to the supply of enslaved people by dispatching a second boat upriver, despite the many hazards and inefficiencies of upriver trading.