Slavery’s Archive in the Premodern World

 Slavery’s Archive in the Premodern World
Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, UCLA
Friday, May 7, 2021
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Slavery is often equated with archival lack and erasure, an assumption perhaps inherited from the study of the Atlantic slave trade but which might not hold for the premodern world. For one thing, in the medieval Mediterranean for example, people could slip in and out of the category of slavery—anyone could become a slave and many slaves were manumitted. Orlando Patterson’s concept of “social death” and the corollary idea of archival absence thus may not necessarily apply. If anything, the history of premodern slavery has been obscured by the paucity of scholarly analysis rather than archival absence. Moreover, most scholarly research has focused on literary sources more than documentary ones. One aim of this workshop, therefore, is to shed light on the material, visual, and archeological records of slavery. What objects and documents have survived? Beyond the recovery of facts, what can we learn from an archive’s materiality?


Paucity of scholarly analysis in Plain English:  The slavery records exist. Of course they do. But white historians lacked interest in writing about the numerous records until very recently. WHY?

Let's guess.


Indian Slavery

Think so?

absolute power depends on absolute control over knowledge, which in turn necessitates absolute corruption

Think about this

“Politicians, Priests, and psychiatrists often face the same problem: how to find the most rapid and permanent means of changing a man’s belief…The problem of the doctor and his nervously ill patient, and that of the religious leader who sets out to gain and hold new converts, has now become the problem of whole groups of nations, who wish not only to confirm certain political beliefs within their boundaries, but to proselytize the outside world.” – William Sargant “Battle of the Mind”

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