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Week 8: Migration and (Unfree) Labour

Tutor: Dr Camillia Cowling

PPT slides for the session

Class: Friday 24 November, Room MB0.08 (Maths Dept)

Between 1500 and the 1870s, around 12 million people left African shores in conditions of captivity, bound for forced labour in plantations and urban centres across the Americas. They would be joined, in smaller but nonetheless significant numbers, by labour migrants in varying states of unfreedom – Chinese workers in Cuba and Peru; Indian indentured migrants in the British Caribbean. This session focuses on the history and global legacies of this forced migration.

In the first place, we’ll consider a variety of approaches through which scholars have tried to grapple with Atlantic histories of forced labour migration. These range from the effort to quantify and map these bound human flows, to microhistorical or biographical approaches that focus on the experiences of specific actors or trajectories in the diaspora; and from examinations of the role of forced migration in the making of racial capitalism to those that emphasise gender and reproductive histories. In the second place, we’ll consider the global history implications of such migrations, and ask how global historians have used this history to re-think national or imperial narratives.


What approaches have scholars taken to the history of forced (labour) migration, in the Atlantic World and beyond? How effective are their different approaches? What do they leave unsaid?

How might a focus on forced movement help us to tell histories of the making of race and gender? How much scope is there in this history to talk about agency, personhood, and resistance?

How well does Atlantic history fit into the global here? Does the story of forced migration in the Atlantic World look different through a global history lens? What contributions can a focus on forced migration make to the ways global history is written? How does this history connect to other themes in global history that you’re exploring on this course –labour, race, capitalism, empire, environmental history, violence?

Core readings:

At least TWO of:

The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database: You may already be familiar with this collective international effort to chart the movements of millions of Africans in slave ships across the Atlantic. If not, have a look at some of the wealth of materials it contains: introductory maps and estimates; 3D visualisations of slave ships; the section on intra-American trading; or the introductory essays (in the Transatlantic section of the site).

Diana Paton, “Gender History, Global History, and Atlantic Slavery: On Racial Capitalism and Social Reproduction.” American Historical Review, forthcoming Autumn 2022 [ this reading is useful for the focus on reproduction as well as production, gender as well as race, in the history of the Atlantic slave trade]

Emma Christopher, Freedom in White and Black: A Lost History of the Illegal Slave Trade and its Global Legacy. University of Wisconsin Press, 2018 [e-book @ library]. [an accessible story, ranging across four continents, of the global implications of illegal Atlantic slave trading. Read the parts that most interest you, but the introduction, epilogue, and the 3rd part, bringing in Australian colonial history are good places to start.]

Emma Christopher, Cassandra Pybus, and Marcus Rediker, eds. Many Middle Passages: Forced Migration and the Making of the Modern World. University of California Press, 2007 [introduction, pp. 1-19, and any essays that particularly interest you].

Madhavi Kale, Fragments of Empire: Capital, Slavery, and Indentured Labour in the British Caribbean. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998 (introduction and chapter 1) [a useful way of re-thinking imperial and labour histories]

Please come to class prepared to summarise your reading for others who chose other pieces. Please also think about how your reading helps answer the seminar questions.

Further reading

Damir-Geilsdorf, Sabine, et. al., eds., Bonded Labour: Global and Comparative Perspectives. Transcript Verlag, 2016.

Manning, Patrick, ed., Slave Trades, 1500-1800: Globalization of Forced Labour. Variorum, 1996.

Eltis, David, ed., Coerced and Free Migration: Global Perspectives. Stanford University Press, 2002.

Eltis, David. “Free and Coerced Migrations: the Atlantic in Global Perspective,” European Review, 12 (2004): 313-28.

Equiano, Olaudah, The Life of Olaudah Equiano. G& D Media, [1789] 2020.

The Biography of Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua: His Passage from Slavery to Freedom in Africa and America, eds. Robin Law and Paul Lovejoy, Marcus Wiener, 2001. [we have only 1 print copy]

Barnet, Miguel, Biography of a Runaway Slave, 1994 [print book only, but we have several library copies]

Morgan, Jennifer L., Reckoning with Slavery: Gender, Kinship, and Capitalism in the Early Black Atlantic. Duke University Press, 2021.

Fisk, Bethan. “Black Knowledge on the Move: African Diasporic Healing in Caribbean and Pacific New Granada.” Atlantic Studies, 18:2 (June 2021): 244-70.

Roseanne Adderley, New Negroes from Africa: Slave Trade Abolition and Free African Settlement in the Nineteenth-Century Caribbean. Indiana University Press, 2006.

Camillia Cowling, “Teresa Mina’s Journeys: ‘Slave-Moving’, Mobility, and Gender in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Cuba.” Atlantic Studies, 18:1 (7-30), 2021.

Anderson, Wanni W., and Robert G. Lee, eds., Displacements and Diasporas: Asians in the Americas. Rutgers University Press, 2005 [the first section, Frameworks, will be useful for our discussions]

Kathleen López, Chinese Cubans: A Transnational History. University of North Carolina Press, 2013. Especially Introduction and Chapter 1.

Benjamín Narvéz, “Abolition, Chinese Indentured Labour, and the State: Cuba, Peru, and the United States during the Mid-Nineteenth Century.” The Americas, 76:1 (January 2019): 5-40.

Hartman, Saidiya, Lose your Mother: A Journey along the Atlantic Slave Route. Farrah, Straus & Giraux, 2008. [only 1 print copy]

Lovejoy, Paul. Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa. Chapter 7: “The Nineteenth-Century Slave Trade.” CUP 2012 (third edition).

Rediker, Marcus, The Slave Ship: A Human History. London: John Murray, 2007.

________ and Peter Linebaugh, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. Verso, 2012.

Johnson, Walter, ed. The Chattel Principle: Internal Slave Trades in the Americas. New Haven University Press, 2007.

James Sweet, Domingues Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World. University of North Carolina Press, 2011. [several print copies at Library]

Roquinaldo Ferreira, Cross-Cultural Exchange in the Atlantic World: Angola and Brazil during the Era of the Slave Trade. Cambridge University Press, 2012 [several print copies]

Scott, Julius. The Common Wind: Afro-American Currents in the Age of the Haitian Revolution. Verso, 2018 [we have several print copies]

Berlin, Ira. “From Creole to African: Atlantic Creoles and the Origins of African-American Society in Mainland North America.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 53 (1996): 251-88.

Falola, Toyin, and Childs, Matt, eds. The Yoruba Diaspora in the Atlantic World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004. Chapter 5: João José Reis and Beatriz Mamigonian, “Nagô and Mina: the Yoruba Diaspora in Brazil,” pp 77-110.

Graham, Sandra Lauderdale. “Being Yoruba in Rio de Janeiro.” Slavery & Abolition, 32:1 (March 2011): 1-26.

Schmidt-Nowara, Christopher. Slavery, Freedom, and Abolition in Latin America and the Atlantic World. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2011. [A useful, approachable survey for background, particularly on the central role of the Iberian Americas in the history of Atlantic slavery]