Aren't some countries unfairly vilified for their slavery/colonial past?

Willempie

Ad Honorem
Jul 2015
5,495
Netherlands
I would say that in some countries it's probably too little, but for that I would need access to those textbooks to see. It's not just slavery though, there are other things as bad or just as bad.
You are forgetting that large parts of national history focus on what is the current nation. If you take the Netherlands, only the provinces of Zealand and Holland made money with maritime expeditions and colonies (the VOC and WIC only had offices in those provinces for example). Even so the most money they made didn't come from the colonies, but mostly from activities in the north like Baltic trading and whaling. Even the money made in the colonies was mostly trade and mostly Asian trade. The VOC made most of its money by buying in the Indies and selling in India and China and vice versa. The western colonies (WIC) were mainly a drag. The company refused to really invest, so it basically remained a couple of sugar plantations (Brazil and Surinam) and trading hub (Antilles) of which the slave trade was one of the biggest components.

So yeah when you talk about national history (like you get in school) it gets the importance it deserves.
 
Jul 2019
135
Ghana
I schooled in Belgium, where I was born and raised, and never learnt anything of substance about slavery in school. The trans Atlantic slave trade was mentioned, but barely. African and Asian history was almost entirely absent. We didn't even learn much about Belgian Congo. My high school history teacher from back in the day was completely unaware of the level of carnage during the colonial period. She knew I was knowledgeable of African history in general, and asked me to give a small introduction on Belgian activities in Congo, and she literally shut me down almost immediately because she thought that I was making outlandish claims. Later in the year she came to class, visibly shocked after doing her own research on the subject, and publicly apologized to me, after which she handed out a good number of first hand witness accounts of the Belgian activities in Congo, for the whole class to read, which fell completely outside of our curriculum. Other people from Belgium have told that they did in fact learn more about Congo, but it remains an extremely controversial subject in Belgium, which has been traditionally only spoken of in hushed terms.

On the other hand, I have history books from Ghana, about Ghana, my other home country, where I currently live. Those books have no qualms about talking about the slave trade, including the role that local states played in this trade. People here know that slaves were captured during a period of internecine warfare, and were transported to the coast for sale to the Europeans in exchange for guns, mostly. I've even had officials of local chiefs here explain some of the details to me. Fascinating stuff... Really not that controversial. The more serious books also offer considerable nuance. It's not like a lot of these states had a choice. It was an eat or be eaten kind of time and trade with Europeans often felt more like extortion. Most people were suffering... Still, this doesn't excuse the horrendous crime of slave-trading, and Ghanaians have had no problem atoning for this. Ghanaian Presidents as well as chiefs have repeatedly and publicly apologized for the role that some of our ancestors played in this trade, and libations and rituals including people from the diaspora are still held at the old slave castles on the coast. In addition, Africans of the diaspora have a right to return (Right to Abode Law), a theoretical right to citizenship and right to land (since president Rawlings, at least), and I've actually met Americans and Caribbean folk that have resettled here on land granted by local chiefs. It's a thing...

Of course, a lot of schools here teach a lot of "international" history (often following old European curriculums), but don't necessarily go in-depth on most of European or American history, or even British colonial history dealing with other regions of the world. Just the stuff that's relevant to Ghana. I think it's like that in most countries.
 
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Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,637
Westmorland
My high school history teacher from back in the day was completely unaware of the level of carnage during the colonial period. She knew I was knowledgeable of African history in general, and asked me to give a small introduction on Belgian activities in Congo, and she literally shut me down almost immediately because she thought that I was making outlandish claims. Later in the year she came to class, visibly shocked after doing her own research on the subject, and publicly apologized to me, after which she handed out a good number of first hand witness accounts of the Belgian activities in Congo, for the whole class to read, which fell completely outside of our curriculum.
She sounds like a brilliant teacher.

Those books have no qualms about talking about the slave trade, including the role that local states played in this trade. People here know that slaves were captured during a period of internecine warfare, and were transported to the coast for sale to the Europeans in exchange for guns, mostly.
I suspect this is the consequence of history teaching focussing on national history. Although we were told about colonial slavery at school we were never told that many slaves were captured in regional conflicts and sold on. We all worked on the assumption that white slavers essentially mounted slaving raids in a manner not unlike US cavalry units burning out Native American villages (which we were also taught about, with lurid illustrations as I recall).

Of course, a lot of schools here teach a lot of "international" history (often following old European curriculums), but don't necessarily go in-depth on most of European or American history, or even British colonial history dealing with other regions of the world. Just the stuff that's relevant to Ghana. I think it's like that in most countries.
I suspect you are right. Our curriculum was (with hindsight) pretty enlightened and did more than just tell us about battles, dates of monarchs and how super Britain has always been. We even had a whole term on the sectarian history of Northern Ireland, which was fascinating. We were also actively taught to question things - a quality which seems sadly lacking in the agenda-driven tub-thumping masqureading as history which we see so much of nowadays from both the left and right.
 
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Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,807
You are forgetting that large parts of national history focus on what is the current nation. If you take the Netherlands, only the provinces of Zealand and Holland made money with maritime expeditions and colonies (the VOC and WIC only had offices in those provinces for example). Even so the most money they made didn't come from the colonies, but mostly from activities in the north like Baltic trading and whaling. Even the money made in the colonies was mostly trade and mostly Asian trade. The VOC made most of its money by buying in the Indies and selling in India and China and vice versa. The western colonies (WIC) were mainly a drag. The company refused to really invest, so it basically remained a couple of sugar plantations (Brazil and Surinam) and trading hub (Antilles) of which the slave trade was one of the biggest components.

So yeah when you talk about national history (like you get in school) it gets the importance it deserves.
I wouldn't undersell the sheer commercial genius of the Golden Age Dutch, the Amsterdamers primarily of course. Sure the colonial empire never really covered huge swathes of land, was based on trade, but the inter-European one provided the bulk. But what they did was gather and collate info on all the distant parts of the world, and all the wonderful things there, and then process it all in the form of books, maps, prints etc. sold all over Europe as a huge industry. The British largely undercut that as well, as they got their empire going in the 18th c. But before that things like the European standard for cartographic knowledge about the world was set in Amsterdam.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,807
The USSR always looked rather indistinguishable from a central power with a set of colonies to me.

Whilst you make some very fair points, I don't think anyone is arguing that the only route to power and wealth is colonialism and the exploitation of slavery. But that doesn't take away from the fact that colonialism and the exploitation of slavery is at least one route to power and wealth.
The operative word behind a distinction would seem to be "overseas", and the rider to that to describe certain other processes on the Eurasian continent would be "internal colonization".
 

Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,637
Westmorland
The operative word behind a distinction would seem to be "overseas", and the rider to that to describe certain other processes on the Eurasian continent would be "internal colonization".
I take your point, but I susepct we agree that the issue of whether or not Russia was to all lintents and purposes a colonial power doesn't hinge on the geographical location of her colonies.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,807
I take your point, but I susepct we agree that the issue of whether or not Russia was to all lintents and purposes a colonial power doesn't hinge on the geographical location of her colonies.
I would certainly count it as one. The same mechanisms also make fx Sweden and Denmark somewhat similar cases, albeit on much smaller scale.
 

mark87

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,092
Santiago de Chile
You are forgetting that large parts of national history focus on what is the current nation. If you take the Netherlands, only the provinces of Zealand and Holland made money with maritime expeditions and colonies (the VOC and WIC only had offices in those provinces for example). Even so the most money they made didn't come from the colonies, but mostly from activities in the north like Baltic trading and whaling. Even the money made in the colonies was mostly trade and mostly Asian trade. The VOC made most of its money by buying in the Indies and selling in India and China and vice versa. The western colonies (WIC) were mainly a drag. The company refused to really invest, so it basically remained a couple of sugar plantations (Brazil and Surinam) and trading hub (Antilles) of which the slave trade was one of the biggest components.

So yeah when you talk about national history (like you get in school) it gets the importance it deserves.
The Netherlands and other ''western'' countries are not quite the ones I had in mind when I wrote that in any case. You make a good point regarding national histories being focused on national units that might not make as much historical sense though.
 
Oct 2019
68
United States
Spain and Portugal didn't start the slave trade, Algiers didn't need their help. On the other hand, they boosted demand, and the trade expanded deeper into Africa thanks to them.