Slavery and Unfree Labour

The Slavery & Unfree Labour research theme is led by Professor Alex Balch.

The study of slavery and unfree labour includes a range of disciplines and subject fields. These include history, politics, law, archaeology, sociology, psychology, literature and the arts. The very act of defining slavery or slavery-like practices is itself a deeply political act. This is reflected in the incorporation of ‘unfree labour’ in this theme, widening the conversation to encompass those engaged with research around exploitation in the labour market.

The University of Liverpool is home to a wealth of research into different periods and examples of slavery and unfree labour. These range from the classical era through empire to contemporary instances of forced labour or human trafficking; from the study of slavery and slavery-like practices, to the investigation of the impacts and legacies of these practices.

The city of Liverpool itself has strong historical links with the subject, widely recognised as playing a prominent role in the transatlantic slave trade, the largest example of forced migration in human history.

The University benefits greatly from its unique relationship with the International Slavery Museum (ISM), with which it has collaborated since 2006 through the jointly run research centre: the Centre for the Study of International Slavery (CSIS).

These relationships and resources have led to communities of scholars coming together to focus on four main strands of research:

  • the history of different periods of slavery and their abolition;
  • the study of representation in art and literature – building on traditions of postcolonial literary studies and cultural history;
  • the memorialisation and commemoration of slavery, for example exploring the role of public history and heritage; and
  • contemporary forms of unfree labour and the role of state and non-state actors

Slavery and Unfree Labour projects are also included as part of the University's institutional Heritage Research Theme.

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