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The Great Abolition Sham (2005)

Author: Michael Jordan
Year: 2005
Publisher: Stroud. Sutton

The cover of the book 'The Great Abolition Sham'

Michael Jordan's, The Great Abolition Sham, addresses the myths and memories that have been built regarding the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade in 1807. The book is centrally a repetition of traditional historical documents framed in a revisionist mode which seeks to disrupt a perceived imbalance in historical perspective. The work, however, since it relies on well-established positions fails to take a different stance to the topic and in effect repeats the same findings.

The main focus of criticism, in a poorly-structured book is on Wilberforce, the Anglican Church and the British Government for their delay and indifference as well as the latter two's profiteering from the trade in enslaved Africans even after 1807 and 1834. Wilberforce is portrayed as a dithering individual who procrastinates and dwells rather than taking action to promote both abolition and emancipation. Jordan (2005: 140) employs a sarcastic tone to denounce the institutions involved in the trade; 'one might have imagined that the church was united in opposing slavery, but this was not the case. At appropriate times the protestant authority in England was ready to pay lip-service to the idea of emancipation but at heart it remained deeply resistant.' The book is damming regarding the perceived manner in which enslavement and abolition is remembered in Britain. Jordan (2005: 52) states that, 'in the search for acceptance solutions to our attitudes towards slavery and its eventual demise we have created false heroes and missed simple truths. We have wallowed in cosy, if largely mythological explanations that slavery was abolished through the triumph of a vaguely defined amalgam of Christian values and the British sense of fair play.' The book therefore also aims to dispel the myths and memories that 1807 and the abolition act has cast regarding the generosity of Britain. Jordan (2005: 3) actively engages in the reasons for the construction of these myths; 'wanting acceptable solutions we have created heroes whose conduct did not actually merit the accolade and we have missed, or sidestepped, some simple truths about the whys and wherefores.' It is these 'acceptable solutions' that Jordan seeks to overturn as they are seen to cloud the remembrance of Britain's guilt and disgrace. 'In the...years since abolition, perhaps to cover our shame and put our past conduct in the best light we have tended to create a mythology about the British institution of slavery' (Jordan 2003: 3).

These efforts are let down substantially by a poorly argued book which lacks focus and brings no new scholarship to the study. Indeed, Jordan's book appears as a rehash of material from Eric Williams, James Walvin and notable others. This is despite the repeated claims made in the book regarding the insubstantial nature of historiography in the study of slavery. Jordan uses phrases such as, 'not as some authors' (2005: 2), 'many authors claim' (2005: 3), 'authors who claim' (2005: 34) and 'there is a mistaken belief promoted by some historians', as a means of furthering the cause, merits and legitimacy of his own work. Jordan (2005: 23) also employs the criticism, 'trendier', in relation to some, unmentioned historical works. A suggestion that has to be entertained would be that this is in order to obscure the lack of original research in his work. Jordan's book therefore fails to live up to its billing as an influential and original assessment of the history of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain. It disrupts no major 'collective memory' of the slave trade and its premise of revising 'traditional' historical narratives is observed to be no more than a selling point; thereby playing on desires by audiences to reveal and uncover hidden pasts.

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