Something old, something new

Hello loyal followers,

Let me draw your attention to some of the materials I’ve updated or completed in the past week as well as some of our older materials that you might find interesting.

I’m particularly intrigued by the story of Daniel Botefeur, who represents a largely untold story of Germans who took an active role in the slave trade in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The document (in English) shows us both his notoriety in West Africa as well as the fortunate escape of some of his potential victims. I must give special thanks to the Cologne-based historian Michael Zeuske, whose fascinating work on slave traders I drew from for Botefeur’s activities, as well as my friend Suzanne Schwarz at the University of Worcester, who knew of the document and brought it to my attention.

Staying on the topic of objectionable people, my helpful assistant Julia Alcamo has helped me transcribe excerpts from an article (auf deutsch) by Christoph Meiners, perhaps the most notorious racist of the Enlightenment era. In the article he defends slavery on the grounds of natural law and what he insists is the essentially subhuman nature of Africans. This isn’t a pleasant read, but it is a useful reminder of the roots of contemporary racism. Only one of his arguments surprised me: he insists at one point that the proponents of equality between blacks and whites did not really want to put them on the same plane but rather to privilege blacks over whites. Le plus çe change….

It is also worth remembering that there were forceful critiques of slavery going on as well. Meiners argued in particular against Kant, whose views (English/deutsch) on race shifted over his career toward an outright rejection of slavery and colonial conquest. Of course, the Afro-German philosopher Anton Wilhelm Amo’s critique (English/deutsch) of the legality of slavery pre-dated Kant’s moral case by decades. If you don’t already know the story of Anton Wilhelm Amo, then by all means go and check it out right now.

I’ve also added some material on experiences in the 20th century, including the military service of African-American soldiers in the First and Second World Wars (English) and the experiences of Marie Nejar in the Nazi era and afterward, from an interview by Jermaine Raffington (English/deutsch). She’s a sparky and delightful woman with fascinating stories to tell.

That’s all for now. I’ll provide more updates as new material goes up, but feel free to keep checking in on us. And do let us know what you think!

Best,

Jeff

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