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Catherine Flon by Clunie Damus, 2009



This event is part of the research initiative Imagining Emancipation: Projects for Abolishing Slavery in the History of Political Thought, 1750-1888 and is supported by the European Network Fund and the Centre for Political Thought.


Steering Committee: Yesenia Barragan, Sandrine Bergès, Brandon Byrd, Ross Carroll, Gunvor Simonsen, and Nicolai von Eggers Mariegaard. 

Workshop on Imagining Emancipation in the Atlantic World, 1750-1888

Reed Hall, University of Exeter

June 2nd-3rd 2023

The concept of emancipation has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. Historians like Kris Manjapra and critical theorists such as Rinaldo Walcott have exposed the troubling extent to which the emancipation of enslaved people in the Atlantic world was a false dawn; a managed process that ushered in, at best, a partial freedom for Black and African diasporic people who continued to be subjected to various forms of unfreedom and white domination across post-slavery societies. But there exists an underexplored gap between how emancipation was imagined in colonial, metropolitan, imperial, and national contexts, and how it was eventually enacted.

In this interdisciplinary workshop, we seek to bring together intellectual and social historians, political theorists and philosophers, literary and art historians among others to recover eighteenth and nineteenth visions of emancipation and their fraught realities across the revolutionary Atlantic world. Our objects of study will range from programmes for gradual emancipation to the most radical schemes of Black liberation. We hope that by focusing on how actors imagined a society free of slavery, this workshop may bring together scholars from a variety of different fields.

The actors we study will range from reformers suggesting policy, to the formerly enslaved themselves, as they expressed their visions in the form of art, writing, or petitions, to philosophers formulating concrete or wildly utopian plans, to authors and artists envisaging societies free of slavery. That is, we are interested in those who sought to eradicate all forms of servitude as well as those who wished to perpetuate some degree of control over the newly emancipated. In this respect we understand emancipation as a negotiated and contested struggle.

The workshop will prioritise a multiplicity of voices – both in terms of who is studied and in terms of the disciplinary background of who studies them. Our overall approach will be global, focusing on similarities, differences, and mutual influences when it came to imagining emancipation across the Atlantic world. We will ask: how did local or regional contexts shape interpretations of emancipation? How did ideas about emancipation travel across borders? How did proposals for emancipation draw inspiration from those developed in other contexts? How were ideas grown in specific contexts, or adapted and received abroad? Participants are not obliged to take an international approach, but our aim is to bring together researchers in ways that will emphasise and explore trans-Atlantic connections.


Full Programme


11:00 - Coffee and Opening Remarks

11:30- 13:00 Panel 1

Reconsidering Emancipation in the Black Atlantic and Pacific

  • Chris Gismondi, Gradual Abolition and Reproduction in Upper Canada, Pennsylvania, and New York
  • Yesenia Barragan, The Legal Rights of Slaveholders in Gradual Emancipation Colombia
  • Norma Watson, Confined Freedom: Complexities of Blackness, Mobility, & Conceptions of Identity and Citizenship in 19th century Cuba
  • Nicolai van Mariegaard, TBD 

13:00-14:00 Lunch

14:00-15:30 Panel 2

Struggles over Freedom in the Post-Emancipation Atlantic and Pacific

  • Anne Eller, Not Properly a Prisoner: Sugar Crisis and Detention in Martinique, 1880s-90s [ONLINE]
  • Guy Emerson Mount, Black Atlantic/Black Pacific: Freedom Dreams, Imperial Imaginaries, and Black Colonization Plans to Hawai‘i and the Philippines
  • Kelly Brignac, Defining Slavery in the Era of Abolition: The Regina Coeli Revolt against French Slaving in the 1850s
  • Michael Becker, Bayly v. Ewart: Refashioning the Slave Registry Bill in the Apprenticeship Era British Empire 

15:30- 16:00 Coffee  

16:00- 17:30 Panel 3

Politics and Political Memories of Slavery and Freedom

  • Emma Christopher, ‘Black is not the Skin’: Slavery, Freedom, and the Fight for Survival in the Río Yurumanguí (Colombia)
  • Tom O’Shea, From Chattel Slave to Wage Slave? Reimagining Freedom in Post-Emancipation Republican Thought
  • Jesse Olsavsky, The Abolitionist Tradition and the Birth of Pan-Africanism, 1863-1935 [ONLIN]
  • John Bell, The Essence of Emancipation: Black Pedagogy and Liberal Citizenship in the US Civil War Era. [ONLINE]

Dinner: Location TBD



9:30 – 11:00 Panel 4

Centering Women’s Politics and Lives

  • Selina Patel Nascimento, Imagining Emancipation on the Luso-Atlantic ‘Countervoyage’: Afro-Brazilian Women’s Nineteenth-century Navigations of Slavery and Freedom
  • Elad Carmel, ‘The emancipated mind is impatient of imposition’: women and emancipation in 1790s Britain
  • Ross Carroll, ‘A Holy War:’ Elizabeth Heyrich and the Critique of Gradual Emancipation

11:00 -11:30 Coffee

11:30- 13:00 Panel 5

Liminal Geographies, Freedom Struggles Across the Americas

  • Isadora Motta, Brazilian Quilombos and the Geopolitics of Abolition during the Triple Alliance War
  • Ángela Pérez-Villa, Hunger, Theft, and Freedom in the Aftermath of the Independence Wars in Cauca, Colombia
  • Dann J. Broyld, Crafting Maroon-Like Communities in British Canada, 1830-1860 [ONLINE]
  • Miguel Durango-Loaiza, Newspapers, letters, sailors, and spies: Understanding the French revolutions in Tierra Firme [ONLINE] 

13:00- 14:00 Lunch

14:00- 15:30 Panel 6

Abolitionism and Unfreedoms in the African Atlantic and Haiti

  • José Lingna Nafafé, Black Atlantic Abolitionist Movement in the Seventeenth Century: African Perspective Before Wilberforce and His Generation of Abolitionists
  • Taylor Prescott, Reckoning with Unfreedom in Freetown During the Age of Revolution (1787 to 1834) [ONLINE]
  • Marie Stango, Enacting Emancipation in Liberia
  • Brandon Byrd “The Unspeakable Indignation Roused in Us:” The Haitian Abolition Society and the Abolitionist Politics of Post-Revolution Haiti [ONLINE]

15:30- 16:00 Coffee

16:00 -17:30 Panel 7

Slaving and Anti-Slavery Schemes and Plans

  • Christopher Brown, Free Saint-Louis: Slavery and Statecraft in Maurice Morgann’s Plan for Senegal of 1763 [ONLINE]
  • Mihai Olteanu, Rival Views of Slavery and Servitude at the Revolutionary Institut de France, 1795-1803 [ONLINE]
  • Ryan Hanley, Robert Wedderburn’s Radical Emancipations, 1817-1831 
  • Gunvor Simonsen, Reception of the “Consolidated Slave Trade Act of 1824” in the Eastern Caribbean [ONLINE]

17: 30- 17:45 Closing remarks 


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