Alan Lester
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The realpolitik of emancipation in the British Empire, 1833–38
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Historians of humanitarianism have drawn attention to the year 1833 as a watershed in humanity’s sense of itself. The Antislavery Act passed in that year and abolishing slavery in British colonies was the result of a new extension of concern and responsibility for the plight of others and the culmination of a humanitarian sensibility that stretched back to the European Enlightenment. What is often overlooked is the racial and temporal specificity of this concern, and the even greater specificity of the remedial action taken by the government to address it. Enslaved people of African descent in the Caribbean were its primary targets, though they remained apprenticed to their former owners until at least 1 August 1838. Enslaved Indians were not to be freed; Africans liberated from other nations’ slave ships remained apprenticed to other British subjects and a spectrum of coerced labour relations continued to characterise the British Empire. This chapter examines the historical geography of emancipation as a case study of the realpolitik that always accompanied humanitarian concern.

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Humanitarianism, empire and transnationalism, 1760–1995

Selective humanity in the Anglophone world


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