Bound labor in the Americas before the abolition of slavery:legal codifications, transfers and the harmonization of the practices

One-day conference

Poitiers University, France, October 16th, 2015

From the 17th century onwards, the demographic and economic growth of the North American and Caribbean colonies was intricately linked to the introduction and subsequent exploitation of bound labor. The implementation of indentured servitude addressed the need to compensate for the scarcity of labor, after the relative failure of the enslavement of Native Americans, while also assuring the peopling of the colonies. By the same token, the deportation of vagrant children, of vagabonds and convicts also provided a means for the Old Continent to rid itself of its undesirable population. The rise in European immigration that resulted from the decrease of sea transportation costs made free labor more economically attractive and gradually transformed the indentured servitude system into the Redemptioner System. During the course of the 18th century, the increasing reliance on black bonded labor led to the disappearance of white indentured servitude. Economic incentives - be they in terms of productivity or in the cost of controlling the laborers - motivated the adoption of new forms of bound labor. However, the substitution of one form of unfree labor for another did not occur in a sudden and orderly fashion: the change was characterized by a period of transition during which several types of bound labor coexisted.

This one-day conference aims at historicizing the implementation and development of different forms of bound labor in North America and in the Caribbean before the abolition of slavery. By specifically focusing on the process of legal codification, it intends to underline the continuities, the transfers and the differences that existed between the legislations which applied to various forms of unfree labor, but also between practices. Bound labor took many forms (indentured servitude, apprenticeship, convict labor, slavery, etc.) and encompassed diverse personal and collective experiences, depending on the geographic location and the historical period. Besides examining the construction of a legal arsenal aimed at controlling and disciplining unfree laborers, this one-day conference will also endeavor to assess, through case studies, the disparities between rhetoric and reality, in order to highlight the indomitable propensity for individuals or social groups to emancipate themselves from normative injunctions.

We welcome presentations based on a variety of topics such as:

- a comparative approach between different legislations, different time periods and different geographic locations

- the extent to which social and geographical origins, or religious confession, influenced unfree laborers’ social integration and treatment

- the social and political difficulties posed by the coexistence of various forms of bound labor

- the specialization and assignment to professional tasks according to the type of bound labor force

- the gap between law and practice

- the historiographic progress which the development of new technologies allows, namely in the treatment of data and the reconstruction of personal or collective trajectories

The languages of the one-day conference will be French and English.

For consideration, please submit a paper proposal of 300 words and a 1 page CV by April 15, 2015 to Cette adresse e-mail est protégée contre les robots spammeurs. Vous devez activer le JavaScript pour la visualiser.

A selection of papers presented at the conference will be published.

Conference organizers:

Lawrence Aje (Université Paul -Valéry, Montpellier 3 - EMMA)

Anne-Claire Fauquez (Université Panthéon - Assas - EA 1569: Transferts critiques et dynamiques des savoirs, Université Paris VIII)

Elodie Peyrol-Kleiber (Université de Poitiers - MIMMOC)