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Languages of Slavery

Workshop, 2pm-6pm, Wednesday 20 November 2019, at the University of Warwick

NB. for University of Warwick participants only.

The event is being led by the Early Modern and Eighteenth Century Centre but supported by a number of research centres (Global History and Culture Centre, Caribbean Studies Centre, European History Research Centre).

Warwick scholars are invited to contribute to the workshop materials. If you would like to be involved, please see the call for contributions. The deadline for submissions is 1 November 2019.

Languages of Slavery

Slavery was a word/concept with many meanings in the pre-modern period: chattel ownership in colonial plantations; civil subjection to a tyrant; the constraint of religious liberty; the subjugation of women; unfree white labour, especially during industrialisation. Are such overlaps common across time and space? Were there other meanings that were commonly invoked and what other terms were used to avoid the multivalency?

The workshop hopes to draw on the History Department's considerable strength in research and teaching on slavery to map the varieties of its linguistic meanings and chart their rise, intensity and history across time and space.

We could similarly explore the intersections between its different meanings. Thus, although 'slavery' was invoked by subjugated groups, we could explore how far such groups saw real similarities between each other and identified with each other’s struggle. When Judith Drake or Mary Wollstonecraft, in the early and late eighteenth century, compared the position of many women to African slaves, how far did they identify with the latter? Was the language of civil and religious slavery entirely sealed off from the Atlantic world slavery which was rising in importance at exactly the same time, or rather why was it for some and not others? What terminology or strategies, conscious or subconscious, were used to intertwine or to disentangle the varieties of slavery? Moreover, how far did any intersectionality vary according to time and place? Was ‘French slavery’ symptomatic of English prejudice and was the term similarly charged in France (and elsewhere in Europe)? And how did global perspectives on slavery differ - did non European nations and empires have different languages/conceptions and did their interaction with other regions create new conceptual linkages?

Our focus will be on the pre-modern world up to the nineteenth century but do similar questions apply for 'modern slavery'? Article 4 of the 1948 UN declaration of Human Rights states that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” What implications do the multivalency of the term and the issue of intersectionality have for today?

The discussion will primarily be one between colleagues, at all stages of their career, but we shall also be joined by a guest, Claude Chevaleyre, who co-ordinates a research group in Bonn on “Beyond Slavery: Dependency in Asian History” and can offer us a different/complementary perspective.

On the day, contributors may be asked to summarise their points very briefly but the stress will be on discussion. Depending on how the workshop proceeds, we might think about producing a collaborative article from the texts and conversation.