Why is a 16-year-old book on slavery so popular now?

People don’t generally like to read old news. In most cases, stories on the Ohio State News website – like most news sites – reach peak readership within a week or so after they are published and aren’t read much after that.

But then again, the second most read story on the Ohio State News site in 2019 – viewed more than 90,000 times – was one that was published 16 years ago. That’s not a typo. The story first appeared March 7, 2004.

But it gets even stranger when you realize that the story was not about a blockbuster medical discovery or tuition announcement, but a book on European and African history from 1500 to 1800.

It only starts to make some hazy sense when you find out the title of the book: Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, The Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800. 

The Ohio State news story on the book is titled “When Europeans were slaves: Research suggests white slavery was much more common than previously believed.”

Robert DavisIn the book, now-retired Ohio State University history professor Robert Davis used a unique methodology to estimate that a million or more European Christians were enslaved by Muslims in North Africa between 1530 and 1780 – a far greater number than had ever been estimated before.

A web search of the book and the Ohio State News story shows why their popularity has soared.

In an era of political polarization in America, much of which is related to issues of race, it appears that a portion of the political spectrum often termed the alt-right has produced its own particular take on the book and is sharing the story widely over social media. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center says the alt-right “is a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that ‘white identity’ is under attack by multicultural forces using ‘political correctness’ and ‘social justice’ to undermine white people and ‘their’ civilization.”

The alt-right take on the book, in a nutshell: The fact that some white Christians were once held as slaves by black Muslims essentially excuses slavery in America.

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.