Comparative Studies of Law, Slavery and Race in the Americas
Annual Review of Law and Social Science, Vol. 6, 2010
41 Pages Posted: 9 Feb 2010
Date Written: February 9, 2010
This critical essay surveys the historical research comparing U.S. and Latin American law and slavery. An earlier generation of comparative work on race and slavery, by Frank Tannenbaum and others, drew heavily on law to draw sharp contrasts between U.S. and Latin American slavery, emphasizing the relative harshness of U.S. slave law. Revisionist social historians criticized Tannenbaum for providing a misleading top-down history based on metropolitan codes, and pointed to demographic and economic factors to explain variations in slavery regimes. More recently, legal historians have begun to explore law “from the bottom up” – slaves’ claims in court, trial-level adjudications, and interactions among ordinary people and low-level government officials. While most studies stay within one national context, some scholars have begun to look at slavery and freedom in the transnational context of the Atlantic world, and others have attempted comparisons of manumission in localities across legal regimes.
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