Thursday Lecture Series

The Problem of Slavery—and Poverty—in Western Culture

Thursday, The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room

Slavery and poverty are monumental problems, but they are generally assumed to be separate problems.  This talk will suggest that we might better understand both problems by breaking down the divide between their histories.  Beginning in the era of classical antiquity, we will survey the extent to which the conditions of poverty and slavery have intermingled across the centuries.  In particular, we will examine how slavery long functioned as a regime for managing the problem of poverty in the western world, unpacking case studies ranging from the practice of debt bondage in ancient Rome to proposals for enslaving beggars in early modern England.  At last we will turn to the late eighteenth century in order to consider the Anglo-American age of slave emancipation anew: to trace how poverty’s central yet ambiguous place in debates over emancipation was the outcome of an imaginative revolution we have only begun to explore.