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Drawing on official imperial discourses in the Russian Empire and archival documents of the Orenburg Border Commission (1799–1856), the Russian imperial administrative institution subordinated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this paper analyzes the ransoming, release, and reintegration of freed Russian subjects and shows how these processes and practices were inextricably linked to the Russian imperial concept of political belonging. In such a context, the concepts of freedom and liberation must be questioned; that is, we must determine the extent to which “freedom” can represent a universal value and is legally defined and thus dependent on sociopolitical situations and frameworks. To contribute to a more precise and multifaceted understanding of “freedom” and “dependency” as well as “freeing” and “enslavement,” this article examines the liberation and repatriation of enslaved Russian subjects in the Central Asian khanates of Khiva and Bukhara in the first half of the nineteenth century.

In: Journal of Global Slavery

Abstract

This introductory essay to the special issue Beyond Slavery and Freedom? makes concrete suggestions how we might move beyond this binary and why we should do so. The introduction argues that the conceptual pair slavery/freedom is deeply entwined with narratives of modernity and progress and has shaped scholarship in very diverse fields. On the basis of empirical research from the Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies (BCDSS), we identify six possible pathways of thematically and methodologically moving beyond slavery/freedom that the contributions to the special issue address: 1) investigating forms of dependency that are not usually defined as slavery, 2) paying attention to semantic fields that are closely connected to this binary but not usually understood in relation to it, 3) highlighting the connection between (political, institutional) power and dependency, 4) engaging with post-slavery periods and experiences, 5) problematizing the challenges of identifying slavery in non-written records, and 6) underscoring the voice of actors.

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In: Journal of Global Slavery
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Louis de Grandpré’s book Voyage à la Côte Occidentale d’Afrique, published in 1801, is well-known to historians of Africa working on the eighteenth-century Loango Coast, located in the Cabinda province of Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In describing the laws and customs of the African societies in this region, de Grandpré invites the reader to imagine these societies as “feudal” in character and draws on the semantics of “slavery” in doing so. This article proposes that we need to place this text in the context in which it was written, namely the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. We also need to consider why the author published this book in the first place, in order to understand how the terms “slave” and “slavery” function in this text. The article argues that Louis de Grandpré used the feudal/slavery nexus consciously in order to provide a legitimizing framework for a possible French conquest, hoping to prove his own loyalty and usefulness to Napoleon.

In: Journal of Global Slavery
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In: Journal of Global Slavery

Abstract

This article explores the relationship that the United Irishmen, Irish revolutionaries of the 1790s, had with slavery during the Revolutionary Period. The United Irishmen were exiled by the British Government as a result of a failed rebellion in 1798 and were exile throughout the Atlantic World. For the exiled United Irishmen, the United States became a primary destination for their exile, and here, slavery became an important source of disunity. In Ireland, resistance to slavery was assumed across the entire membership of the United Irishmen, but in exile, this unity diminished. In conversation with past histories, this scholarship focuses on the limitations of Jacobinism as a political ideology and the prominence of rhetoric in revolutionary ideologies of the period.

In: Journal of Global Slavery
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This article reconsiders the evidence provided by the late antique and early medieval penitentials (c. 550–800) for the study of slavery and other dependency relations. The main body of the article identifies and describes three sets of social practices of penance, which can be perceived as actions that contributed to the emergence, perpetuation, or stabilization of dependency relations: the social exclusion and othering of penitents, the assignment of penal measures, and the varying treatment of penitents according to their gender and social status. These social practices are then linked to contemporary theological and socio-legal frameworks that likely informed the practice of penance in Merovingian Gaul. The survey shows that the handbooks of penance provide important material for the study of dependency relations and that the ecclesiastical ritual of penance should be considered as a context in which these relations emerged.

In: Journal of Global Slavery

Abstract

The Cameroon Grassfields faced extreme violence during German colonization in the early twentieth century. The German colonial army used various strategies, such as armed attacks, executions, looting, hostage-taking, and other repressive measures. After military subjugation by the German colonial army, however, the use of various forms of violence continued. Germans made use of multiple strategies in this mountain region to procure laborers for the colonial apparatus on the coast. At the same time, they claimed to be fighting “slave trade” and “slavery.” However, the coercive measures and violence used for this purpose were and are often characterized by those affected and their descendants as forms of “slave trade” and “slavery.” This article adopts an actor-centered approach that combines written sources with corresponding oral accounts and sheds light on local narratives about “labor recruitment.” This will reveal how and why colonized actors conceptualized the systems of coercion they resisted against differently from the German colonizers. The article argues that taking the perspective of colonized actors into account calls into question the distinction between “slave trading” and “labor recruitment.”

In: Journal of Global Slavery
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Abstract

Autonomy is not universally considered the basis of agency in all cultural and historical contexts, nor is it always seen as a prerequisite to “freedom” and “liberation,” standing in conceptual opposite to coercion. In Caribbean Hindu contexts, the notion of service (sevā) as a form of (religious) work is aimed at decentering and dissolving the self for ultimate release from worldly suffering. Historically, regarding post-indenture Suriname and Guyana, some social actors understood godnas—the tattoos of especially senior Hindu women who identified as descendants of Indian indentured laborers—as a means of capacitating women and female bodies toward this goal by allowing them to conduct religious work. Some women with these tattoos considered godnas as voluntary and enabling. Their interpretations diverged from contemporary discourse, which links these tattoos to a presumed compulsory Hindu tradition that subjugated wives to husbands and in-laws. These varied assessments along a continuum of coercion and voluntariness highlight a continued focus on the conceptual binary that (un-)freedom obscures other relevant aspects of the (indentured) workers’ experiences. It runs the risk of reproducing Eurocentric notions of freedom, coercion, and work/labor, shrouding the pertinence of spiritual capital and (religious) rewards in analyses of coercive practices and structural violence.

In: Journal of Global Slavery