Saving humanity, abolishing slavery
in A history of humanitarianism, 1755–1989
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The chapter explains why the anti-slavery movement is considered an important component of the archaeology of humanitarianism. It shows that the battle against slavery was intimately connected with the recognition of the suffering of other human beings, different because of their servile condition, from another race and from often geographically distant populations. This recognition was considered in itself a demonstration of humanity and Christianity. The chapter shows that the abolitionist cause was associated with ‘modern’ forms of mobilisation adopted by the anti-slavery activists who – especially in Britain – enlisted the support of wide segments of the population to exert pressure on national institutions and government. The creation of associations, information campaigns, popular petitions and widespread boycotting of products from the plantations were significant expressions of the new development of collective action against the slave trade and slavery. The chapter explores the global dimension that places anti-slavery in the pre-history of international humanitarianism: the commitment to the abolition of slavery and the trade in human beings connected different countries and continents, charting a vast field of action and promoting a close network for exchanging information, experience and knowledge. This global expansion, however, cannot be considered independently of the different national and imperial contexts which influenced the motivations behind and tendencies in abolitionism.

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