The Relativity of Freedom in Atlantic and U.S. Slavery

AHA Session 277
Sunday, January 9, 2011: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Room 201 (Hynes Convention Center)
Aaron Fogleman, Northern Illinois University

Session Abstract

These four papers consider the legal and social relativity of freedom in the experiences of enslaved peoples. In their analytical approach, these papers favor the paradigm of "degrees of freedom" over dichotomies between enslavement and freedom. Each of these papers seeks to complicate existing narratives of slaves' lives by locating the spaces within which enslaved individuals maneuvered to gain some measure of autonomy, despite their enslaved status. The panelists will discuss slaves living in colonial America, the U.S., Suriname, and on the Gold Coast, all of whom experienced fluidity in their status as unfree men, women, and children. Respectively, these four papers consider warfare, residence in border regions straddling free and slave states, the ambiguous status of Ghana's “castle slaves,” and ownership of slaves by close family members. These various conditions afforded slaves degrees of freedom without completely unbinding them from their status as slaves. Collectively, the papers speak to scholarship that addresses the diversity of slave experience in the Atlantic World and the U.S., and questions the usefulness of viewing slavery and freedom as discrete, inflexible categories. This session is of interest to historians of U.S. and Atlantic slavery, the African diaspora, and comparative slave law.

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