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Book Review


Christopher, E., C. Pybus, M. Rediker, eds. Many Middle Passages: Forced Migration and the Making of the Modern World (Berkley: University of California Press, 2007). 263 pp., $ 24.95.

     This volume is a collection of 11 independently-authored essays, with both an introduction and an afterword written by the editors. Many of the essays were originally presented as papers at a 2005 conference sponsored by the International Centre for Convict Studies at the University of Tasmania and the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Western Australia. According to the editors, the themes which link the essays evolved from ideas in Linebaugh and Rediker's work, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (2000), namely that "the middle passage is not merely a maritime phrase to describe one part of an oceanic voyage; it can, rather, be utilized as a concept—the structuring link between expropriation in one geographic setting and exploitation in another." (2)

     The concept of the Middle Passage is, of course, most often applied to the maritime history of the Atlantic in the 17th and 18th centuries. The great contribution of this volume is that its essays cover other oceans and deal with the 19th and 20th centuries as well. (There is also a small but very helpful collection of maps at the end of the volume.) Arranged in chronological order, the essays cover such topics as the African slave trade in the Indian Ocean, convict labor in Australia, forced drafts of the Irish and Chinese, the Melanesian labor trade, and the trafficking of children across the China Sea. As an example of the breadth and depth of this collection, some of the essays are full of first-person voices, which is always valuable in a teaching situation; several are wonderful examples of the unintended consequences of 19th century imperialism and global capitalism; and several are studies of the social makeup of crews and forced laborers as well as studies of resistance.

     The essays were written for a scholarly audience, but the tropes, if not the specific topics, are so familiar that the essays can be used across a wide range of classes: graduate students, undergraduates, and talented AP students could all make good use of this collection. Many Middle Passages certainly could be used as a backbone for many different upper level courses: maritime history, labor history, history of modern world, and immigration, to name a few. For survey classes, several individual essays could be used to great advantage to supplement the usually-scanty coverage of Austronesia; scattered through the 19th and 20th centuries, many if not most of the essays could be judiciously assigned to facilitate a comparative unfree labor theme.

     Many Middle Passages has much to recommend it. Like all collections, there are stronger and weaker essays, and each student will bring to it his or her own interests and disinterests. Be that as it may, this volume belongs in libraries to facilitate research projects across the 19th and 20th centuries, and on the shelves of world historians at all levels of study. If that is not enough of a recommendation, all the royalties from the book will be donated to Free the Slaves, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending slavery worldwide.


Ane Lintvedt
McDonogh School


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