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This paper focuses on the liberated Africans of the Atlantic world – the nineteenth century’s third-largest group of coerced migrants – and the archipelago of sites from Sierra Leone to the Caribbean, Cape Town, Brazil, Cuba, the Gambia and beyond in which hundreds of thousands of enslaved men, women and children ‘liberated’ from slave ships were resettled. Looking closely at several resettlement sites and the individuals who moved within and between them, the paper explores the dual narratives of compassion and control that evolved around the liberated people, the governance experiments attempted to harness their labour and remake their identities, the ways that they resisted, and the role of antislavery in shaping new models of and justifications for unfree labour exploitation in the 19th century. As this paper will demonstrate, while the abolitionists’ focus was not primarily rescuing enslaved people from ships, the ‘disposal’ of those individuals inadvertently became the point of origin for the modern international humanitarian governance “machine of intervention”. What began as a convenient expedient was the beginning of a process whereby humanitarian discourses, dispositions, justifications, and rationalities began to infuse and shape the exercise of colonial governance, particularly across the British Empire. This paper will also trace how the peculiarly carceral administration of the liberated Africans helped to shape other experiments in how to  confine, sanitise, discipline, and extract labour from ‘socially, racially, or politically suspect’ colonised populations: a normative motif of nineteenth-century European imperial social ordering that found its fullest expression in the emergence of colonial concentration camps across southern Africa and India towards the end of the nineteenth century, and continues to inform modern humanitarian governance structures right up to the present.

All welcome- this seminar is free to attend, but booking is required.