The Hierarchies of Slavery in Santos
Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 9:03AM
Ian Read

I wouldn't be using this space well if I didn't make at least one plug for my new book The Hierarchies of Slavery in Santos, Brazil: 1822-1888, (Stanford University Press, 2011)  The book argues that slavery was hierarchical and slave opportunities for action often dependent on their position and the prestige of their owner.  We typically think that all slaves were treated with equal brutality, but this was certainly not the case.  In Southeastern Brazil at least, doors opened or closed for all kinds of important opportunities -- including freedom -- at different times for different slaves.   Slaves of wealthy owners may have faced some greater hardships (i.e., stricter observation, more jailtime for offenses), but they were often more likely to receive medical attention and live in more comfortable settings.  Slaves, of course, were not oblivious to inequities within bondage.  I believe this tempered some rebelliousness slaves felt toward the institution as a whole.  If life offered "opportunities" within slavery and it was obvious that some slaves had received "breaks," then the incentive to collectively push against the institution as a whole diminished.  


It was this research that turned my interest toward the medical history of Brazil, since Santos remains infamous in Brazil for the scourges of yellow fever and smallpox that devastated the port city during the late 1800s. Santos was a dreaded place to navies when thousands of foreign mariners died in port each year.  Chapter five of Hierarchies of Slavery discusses health conditions, medical treatment, epidemics and slavery.

Please consider buying this book.  Doing so won't make me any money, but it will reduce the pressure that academic presses now face to induce expensive "subsidies" from their authors.  We need academic presses to remain economically viable since primary research brings large profits, but not usually the monetary kind.

Article originally appeared on Era of Epidemics: A Spatial Approach to Disease and History in Imperial Brazil (
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