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Slavery, Ransom and Liberation in Russia and the Steppe Area, 1500-2000

by Annika Stello last modified 2009-04-01 14:28
What Convention
When 2009-06-15 00:00 to
2009-06-16 00:00
Where University of Aberdeen
Contact Name Dr Christoph Witzenrath
Contact Email
Contact Phone +44-1224-272453
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Recent research has demonstrated that early modern slavery was much more widespread than the traditional concentration on plantation slavery in the context of European colonial expansion would suggest. Slavery and slave trading were common across wide stretches of Eurasia, and a slave economy played a vital part in the political and cultural contacts between Russia and its Eurasian neighbours. This international conference backed by the Leverhulme Trust concentrates on captivity, slavery and ransom in the vicinity of the Eurasian steppe from the early modern period to recent developments and seeks to explore its legacy and relevance down to the present day. The conference will centre on the Russian Empire, while aiming to bring together scholars from various disciplines and historical traditions of the leading states in this region, including Poland-Lithuania, the Ottoman Empire, Persia, Mongolia and China, and their various successor states. At the centre of attention will be transfers, transnational fertilisations and the institutional mechanisms, rituals and representations facilitating enslavement, exchanges and ransoming. Slaving, ransoming and captivity have long been marginal subjects of historical research in this area; however, recently historians in Russian imperial history and in some other fields have returned to take a fresh look at a subject that continues to influence mutual perceptions in the area as demonstrated by popular culture, social movements and nineteenth century discourse on Northern American slavery. Conference participants may approach the subject informed by social and cultural historical methods. The conference will seek to apply clearly defined terms, especially with respect to slaves and other forms of bonded labour, and will look at such topics as:



  • The material and military history of slavery in Eastern Europe, Eurasia, and the Black Sea. In what ways and by what means did slavers and slave owners capture, buy and exploit their victims?

·        The scale of the phenomenon: what was the extent of slavery and how extensive was the slave economy?


·        When and why did the medieval east-west trade in slaves change to become largely a north-south trade? Who, and what social or ethnic groups engaged in this specific trade?


·        Where did slaves end up, alive or dead, and to which parts of the world were they sent or dragged?


·        How did captives and slaves returning to Eastern Europe and Eurasia culturally manifest their – professed – plight? What can narratives of captivity tell about the perception of slavery and captivity among those who went through it? What is the documentary value of these sources?


·        Russia expanded at a time which saw a renewed focus on slavery and ransoming. In how far were these trends connected? How did Russia and other powers try to convert transnational contacts related to slavery and captivity into power?


·        What kind of rituals and institutions – diplomatic and domestic – helped to assert the power of the tsar far beyond the claimed sphere of influence, on the slave markets and in the steppe? What were the attitudes of the Orthodox Church towards slavery and redemption? To what extent did the official culture of the Russian Empire engage with slavery?

  • In what ways did captivity, slavery and ransoming become culturally instrumentalized?
  • In what ways were debates on human rights and ideas of freedom in the steppe area related to or influenced by slavery and ransoming?
  • What roles do captives and the memory of captivity play in the area’s contemporary culture, media and politics?



Don Ostrowski (Harvard) will deliver the key note.

More information about this event…

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