Service and Subjecthood: The Inter-Imperial Law of Flight in the Black Sea, 1774–1869

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 9:30 AM
Columbia Hall 4 (Washington Hilton)
Will Smiley, Princeton University
The Ottoman and Russian Empires, while often portrayed as world-historical rivals divided by religious differences, in fact shared a long history of relations—both at the state-to-state level and through individual migration. The two empires were linked by both migration and unfreedom; alongside Russian slaves forcibly brought to the sultans’ domains, many others came as fugitives from serfdom and conscription. While their relationship was contentious, they were in many ways each other’s most important neighbors—and their relationship, in the eighteenth century, came to be regulated by law as much as by war. Part of this law related to servitude: beginning in the late eighteenth century, the Ottoman Empire guaranteed both serfdom and conscription by agreeing to return fugitives—even as the same treaties undermined Ottoman forced labor by mandating the return of Russian slaves held in the Ottoman Empire. Drawing extensively on Ottoman archival sources, the paper traces the resulting inter-imperial regulations on unfreedom and movement, evolving through treaties, through state practice, and eventually through incorporation in the Ottoman citizenship law of 1869. I use a number of individual stories to reconstruct experiences of this system, which was mediated by claims and denials of Russian subjecthood, and by assertions of religious conversion. These contests and negotiations, I argue, foreshadowed the varying trajectories of forced labor in modern international law—and also meant that for many unfree Russian subjects, foreign subjecthood under treaty law was not a privilege, but a liability. The paper thus intervenes in debates over the histories of slavery and forced labor, of early modern imperial governance, and of international law in non-European contexts.
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