Lila O'Leary Chambers


Lila O'Leary Chambers, New York University

MCEAS Consortium Fellow

“Liquid Capital: Alcohol and the Rise of Slavery in the British Atlantic, 1623-1736”

Lila's research examines alcohol's role in the development of Britain's Atlantic empire, with particular emphasis on the growth of transatlantic slavery. Rather than solely an economic asset, I argue that the English relied on alcohol to subsume social and cultural barriers, maintain alliances, and establish the person-to-person diplomacy trade relations required. Moving from Ireland, to Africa's Gold Coast, to slaving ships, to the Leeward Islands, my project illustrates how a wide range of Atlantic peoples drew on alcohol as a form of “liquid capital;” a mutually-recognized medium for the transfer of social, political, and moral, as well as economic, value. Despite its usefulness for British imperial interests, free and enslaved African, Irish, and Native Caribbean actors often turned alcohol to their own ends, forcing the English to continually renegotiate strategies of alcohol management in order to ensure the trade, land, and labor on which their empire depended. Akan leaders demanded liquor for political ceremonies to shore up their power. Kalinago warriors exploited the intimacy of a drink to resist Anglo-Irish invasion in the Caribbean. Enslaved laborers imbibed illicitly to foster a distinct political economy under the weight of slavery.


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