German Historical Institute London

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Hidden Economies of Slavery


9–10 December 2021

Conveners: Felix Brahm (GHI London) and Melina Teubner (University of Bern)
Venue: German Historical Institute London / Online


In many cases, abolition did not bring about an end to slavery. Local economies often continued to rely on slavery, and new forms of unfree labour were invented that involved new places and peoples. Not seldomly private as well as state actors carried on investing in, or operating ventures based on slavery, though less openly.

This workshop addresses the still under-researched phenomenon of ‘second slavery’ in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It has two main directions of inquiry: Firstly, it explores the reconfiguration of local and regional economies of slavery post formal abolition. How did existing structures and systems of dependency feed into the maintenance of slavery, and how did these also change over time, not least through the agency of enslaved people? Here, the workshop is particularly interested in micro economies – focal points of economic activity in their relation to other places and larger-scale processes. Secondly, the workshop inquires into why and how the phenomenon of ‘second slavery’ was less debated by and became less visible to contemporaries. How did the actors involved conceal their business, what strategies were applied to legitimize new forms of unfree labour and why did public attention fade or turn to certain regions and selected forms of slavery?

Conference programme (PDF file)

Call for Papers (PDF file)