University of Pittsburgh
January 16, 2013

Two Pitt Faculty Experts Contribute to The Legal Understanding of Slavery

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PITTSBURGH—The scholarship of University of Pittsburgh Professor of Law and School of Law Dean William M. Carter Jr. and Pitt’s Distinguished University Professor of History and Sociology Seymour Drescher contributes to what the editor of a newly published volume describes as “the first full-length study of the legal definition of slavery and the only collection that sets out to consider what slavery means in law both in an historical and a contemporaneous context.”

The editor of The Legal Understanding of Slavery: From the Historical to the Contemporary (Oxford University Press, 2012) called on leading legal scholars, historians, and authorities in economics and sociology with expertise in slavery to investigate and write chapters on the definition of slavery through the ages. What emerged, according to the book’s introduction, is a legal understanding of slavery that “marries the property paradigm, which is at the heart of the legal definition, with the essence of the lived experience of contemporary slavery.”

In his book chapter titled "The Abolition of Slavery in the United States: Historical Context and Contemporary Application," Carter contends that the Thirteenth Amendment’s framers intended to eliminate both chattel slavery and “the badges and incidents” of slavery when they declared that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude . . . shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Carter is a constitutional law scholar and leading authority on the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He argues that just as the framers realized that slavery constituted a system of interlocking forms of subordination, so too should modern-day advocates, lawmakers, and judges recognize that abolishing slavery requires a broad and evolving understanding of the conditions that support or arise out of enslavement.

Drescher's chapter, titled "From Consensus to Consensus: Slavery in International Law," recounts slavery's shift in status from its millennial sanction by the "Law of Nations" to its universal condemnation in international law as a crime against humanity. An expert on the history of slavery and antislavery movements, Drescher maintains that despite this dramatic shift in the 19th century, it is important to note that during the second quarter of the 20th century, slavery increased to greater proportions in the heart of Europe than had existed in the New World a century earlier.

About the Pitt Experts
William M. Carter Jr. is widely respected for his scholarship in constitutional law, civil rights, and international human rights law. His articles have been published in esteemed journals such as the Columbia Law Review, the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, and the University of California-Davis Law Review. Carter received his JD magna cum laude and Order of the Coif from the Case Western Reserve University School of Law. Before being named dean of Pitt’s School of Law in 2012, he served as professor of law at the Temple University Beasley School of Law and Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

Seymour Drescher is a renowned historian and member of the prestigious Academia Europaea (the Academy of Europe), an association whose members are eminent scientists and scholars from around the world. The focus of his more recent scholarly research has been the history of slavery and its abolition. His writings on slavery include Econocide: British Slavery in the Era of Abolition (University of North Carolina Press, 2d ed., 2010), Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery (Cambridge University Press, 2009), and The Mighty Experiment: Free Labor versus Slavery in British Emancipation (Oxford University Press, 2002), which earned Drescher the Frederick Douglass Book Prize from Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. Drescher was a Fulbright Scholar and received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin.