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Beyond the ‘Slave Community’ and ‘Resistance’ Paradigms: Alternative Approaches to the Social Lives of Bondpeople in the Atlantic World

Thursday 16 March 2017
Johan Huizinga
Doelensteeg 16
2311 VL Leiden
Conference Room (2.60)

Prior to the 1970s, scholarship on American slavery centered slave owners and depicted their human property as nothing more than passive recipients of brutality and exploitation, with no agency, autonomy, or culture of their own. Then, in the 1970s, Anglophone scholars began to develop the new concept of “slave community”, which centers the enslaved and typically portrays African American bondmen in the Americas as forming a harmonious, culturally creative, and racially exclusive entity that served as a bedrock of solidarity and safe space against the horrors and dehumanization of slavery. A crucial component of the imagined “slave community” is resistance, a reference to everyday covert or overt attempts to thwart the institution of slavery and the masters and mistresses who enforced it.

In the past decade, social historians have begun to seek alternatives to the concepts of “slave community” and “resistance”, with the aim of nuancing our understanding of both slave societies and societies with slaves. Karen Y. Morrison speaks of nineteenth-century “creole kinship forms”, whereby single males of white-, Asian- and Afro-Cuban background forged non-marital families with their children in order to transcend racial boundaries and sometimes slavery itself.  Jared R. Hardesty has illuminated the interracial and cross-cultural “social worlds” of eighteenth-century Bostonian slaves, arguing that bondmen and bondwomen strove to make themselves part of their owners’ society and thereby obtain the rights associated with such affiliation.
Barbara Krauthamer has examined the integration of enslaved African Americans within the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian nations, arguing that slavery and racial ideology was central to Native leaders’ definitions of Indian sovereignty. Other scholars have demonstrated that some former slaves in Suriname, Brazil, and the U.S. South who owned their own children, parents, or sexual partners refused to publicly acknowledge them as their kin and subjected them to economic exploitation. his international conference brings together scholars from Europe and the U.S. who are introducing such innovative approaches, based on new evidence from the archives of the Atlantic World.

The themes of this conference will include - but are not limited to - family formation, migration, economic activity, intercommunal ties, and shared social worlds. In creating new paradigms for the study of the social lives of the enslaved, the papers will also collectively shed light on why the “slave community” concept seems to be particular to Anglophone scholarship and has largely resisted adoption by other national historiographies, notably those of the Dutch-, Spanish-, French-, and Portuguesespeaking world. Discussions will also touch upon the implications of urban settings for the “slave community” concept, which originated in studies of the rural U.S. South.


Selected papers will be published in a special issue of the Journal of Global Slavery.


The conference is open to the public. Participant non-speakers will pay EUR 10,- for attendance in cash at the start of the conference. Please register by sending an e-mail to Stephanie van Dam.


See full conference programme

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