Maeve Ryan, "Humanitarian Governance and the British Antislavery World System" (Yale UP, 2022)


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Maeve Ryan’s new book Humanitarian Governance and the British Antislavery World System (Yale UP, 2022) highlights Britain’s early-nineteenth-century, Royal Navy seizures of slave ships and the processes involved in the “liberation” of these enslaved Africans. Nearly two hundred thousand Africans were resettled throughout the British Empire from Sierra Leone to St Helena, the British West Indies, and by treaties to Cuba and Brazil. From 1808 to the end of the Atlantic slave trade, abolitionists attempted to bring relief to these “liberated” Africans. Yet, the needs of Empire often clashed with the moral ideals of abolitionism creating then a “benevolent despotism.” Ryan’s work highlights these imperial experiments across time and the Atlantic and the manifestations of this resettlement. Ryan expertly claims that what Britain did during this period is the beginning ruminations “Humanitarian Governance”; that the evolution of what we today consider humanitarian relief has at its roots this “anti slavery mother.” Back then, the process of liberating Africans from the condition of slavery looked remarkably like slavery itself. But, this humanitarianism was – as Ryan puts it – “a new phenomenon.” Abolitionism evolved as did the processes of humanitarian relief.

Joseph Krulder is a historian of Britain's long eighteenth-century: cultural, social, military, and economic.

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