The slave trade is a hot topic in the scholarly world these days. But scholars are not interested in discussing just any kind of slavery. Present-day slavery and human trafficking—“new slavery,” as the University of Nottingham’s Kevin Bales calls it—doesn’t get much attention. Neither does the history of slavery in Africa, the Middle East, or South Asia. Rather, scholars and activists are almost exclusively interested in the history of the slave trade in the Americas. Politically motivated academics believe that racism and white supremacy constitute a central and uniquely egregious failing of the West. For activists in the U.S., transcending white supremacy means creating and implementing a robust reparations program for African Americans. Scholars committed to this goal can support it best, it seems, by fashioning a “usable past”—i.e., by documenting for the general public the horrors of slavery and reminding people of its pernicious legacy.

The bien-pensants who research and write in this vein find it useful for career advancement to virtue signal regarding their progressive credentials and their antipathy toward capitalism. A case in point is University of Alabama historian Joshua D. Rothman’s highly publicized new book on the lives of three major southern slave traders during the early 19th century, The Ledger and the Chain:

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