Davis’s 1975 work looks to answer a question that had been all but ignored up to that point. Slavery had been accepted in Western culture for centuries. So why did a movement suddenly rise up in the industrial era calling for the slave trade to be abolished? Could it be that people had suddenly become more enlightened and humanitarian? Or were there other, more compelling and perhaps self-interested reasons for this sudden about-turn?
The Problem of Slavery offers a thorough account of the emergence of the antislavery movement in Britain and the United States. But what makes the work unique is the way it explores and unpicks the complex relationships between changes in our understanding of what is moral, the impact of political action, and its effect on social change.
The Problem of Slavery has won the prestigious US National Book Award, the Albert J. Beveridge Award, and the Bancroft Prize.