Historians and anthropologists, from Melville Herskovits to David Eltis, have detailed the intimate relationship between capitalism and slavery and long acknowledged modernity's cultural debt to Africans and African Americans. In the process, argues Herman Bennett in African Kings and Black Slaves, scholars have superimposed a subsuming “liberal order” over early Atlantic historiography (p. 20). The overemphasis on commodification and race, in particular, overlooks a critical fifteenth-century phase in the genealogy of slavery. The early Atlantic was not articulated through regimes of property or racialized difference, Bennett argues, but rather through Afro-European logics of sovereignty and dispossession through which liberalism, chattel slavery, and the modern economy would later emerge.

In six concise chapters, Bennett engages a wide historiography and offers new perspectives on early Atlantic legal culture, political and religious authority, pageantry, and slavery. Bennett complicates the narrative that Europeans rendered Africans...

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