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The Slave Trade & Capitalism

A Conversation with Prof. Joshua D. Rothman


On October 14, the UTC History Department, Africana Studies Program, Department of English, and Department of Political Science welcome Professor Joshua D. Rothman to converse with the UTC community about his new book The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Slave Traders Shaped America published by Basic Books earlier this year. At 4 p.m. in Derthick Hall 201 (masks required), we will have a conversation-style event about the slave trade, capitalism, and economic growth.

Joshua D. Rothman is professor of history and chair of the department of history at the University of Alabama. He is the author of two prize-winning books, Flush Times and Fever Dreams and Notorious in the Neighborhood. He lives in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Slave traders are peripheral figures in most histories of American slavery. But these men—who trafficked and sold over half a million enslaved people from the Upper South to the Deep South—were essential to slavery’s expansion and fueled the growth and prosperity of the United States.

In The Ledger and the Chain, acclaimed historian Joshua D. Rothman recounts the shocking story of the domestic slave trade by tracing the lives and careers of Isaac Franklin, John Armfield, and Rice Ballard, who built the largest and most powerful slave-trading operation in American history. Far from social outcasts, they were rich and widely respected businessmen, and their company sat at the center of capital flows connecting southern fields to northeastern banks. Bringing together entrepreneurial ambition and remorseless violence toward enslaved people, domestic slave traders produced an atrocity that forever transformed the nation.

These slave traders, especially Franklin, had connections to Middle and SE Tennessee.

In conjunction with his visit, about fifteen students have agreed to participate in a book club with support from the Department of History and the Walker Center for Teaching and Learning. These departments provided the books free of charge to the students. The students will read his book prior to his arrival and have the opportunity to have lunch with him on the day of his visit.

Check out the book exhibit here.

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