Slave Emancipation in Cuba is the classic study of the end of slavery in Cuba. Rebecca J. Scott explores the dynamics of Cuban emancipation, arguing that slavery was not simply abolished by the metropolitan power of Spain or abandoned because of economic contradictions. Rather, slave emancipation was a prolonged, gradual and conflictive process unfolding through a series of social, legal, and economic transformations.
Scott demonstrates that slaves themselves helped to accelerate the elimination of slavery. Through flight, participation in nationalist insurgency, legal action, and self-purchase, slaves were able to force the issue, helping to dismantle slavery piece by piece. With emancipation, former slaves faced transformed, but still very limited, economic options. By the end of the nineteenth-century, some chose to join a new and ultimately successful rebellion against Spanish power.
In a new afterword, prepared for this edition, the author reflects on the complexities of postemancipation society, and on recent developments in historical methodology that make it possible to address these questions in new ways.
Those . . . in the rich field of comparative slavery and plantation systems will find much to applaud in this work. . . . The merits of a study such as this transcend its evident historiographical worth: it keeps the social scientist honest and, perhaps, humble.
The intent of [Slave Emancipation in Cuba] is to examine the complicated means through which slavery in Cuba came to an end and the process by which former slaves joined Cuban society as free men and women. . . . The account is told with poise, with sensitivity but without sentimentality. Based on archival sources and manuscript collections located in the United States, Spain and Cuba—some of which were previously unworked—the study employs methodologies of the social sciences tempered by the grace of the humanities. The book, further, stands as a heartening example of the type of scholarship that is possible, under the best of circumstances, when Cuban and North American scholars are permitted to collaborate, unimpeded and unhampered.
Rebecca Scott's Slave Emancipation in Cuba supersedes everything written on the subject and is also the most imaginative and meticulously researched work I have read on any aspect of Hispanic American slavery and emancipation. Professor Scott has a firm grasp of the soundest social history methodology, and she has gained access to sources in Cuba that give a fascinating picture of local diversity and of the underlying social processes that led to the end of a profitable institution. Her quantitative work reveals surprising variations in the origins and demography of Cuban slaves. Her arguments concerning slavery and technology, the coexistence of slave and free agricultural labor, and the effect on slavery of various competing ideologies challenge conventional assumptions about the fate of slavery in various new world colonies and nations.