Linda Colley "Edward Gibbon and Slavery: Decline and Fall and Rise"

Thursday, April 11, 2024 - 4:30pm

Presented by the Lawrence Henry Gipson Institute for Eighteenth-Century Studies and Africana Studies, Dr. Linda Colley, Shelby M.C. Davis 1958 Professor of History at Princeton University, will be discussing Edward Gibbon and Slavery: Decline and Fall and Rise. Between 1776, the year of the Declaration of Independence, and 1788, the year before the Fall of the Bastille, Edward Gibbon published the six volumes of his The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. An immediate success, the book passed quickly into Italian, French and German; and over the next two centuries, continued to spread into multiple languages. By 1900, you could read Gibbon in Hindi or Punjabi. Simultaneously, Decline and Fall has been repeatedly referenced not just by classicists and historians, but also by composers, novelists, poets, and polemicists. Most conspicuously, it has repeatedly been drawn on by political activists, especially those of an oppositionist and radical cast. One reason for this, it is often argued, was Gibbon’s fervent opposition to slavery. This lecture re-assesses the evidence for this, and the paradoxical connections between the historian, his book, and enslavement.

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