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Medieval Unfreedoms: Slavery, Servitude, and Trafficking in Humans before the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

October 19 – 20, 2018
Binghamton University Downtown Center

Across the medieval world (c. 500 — c. 1500), multiple forms and degrees of unfreedom—slavery, serfdom, forced concubinage, coerced labor, captivity, and bondage—co-existed. Unfree people made crucial, but often obscured, marks on their societies, while trade in humans tied together distinct cultural zones, religions, and geographic regions. Shifting definitions of freedom and unfreedom shaped evolving social systems, and helped to shape developing concepts of race, ethnicity, social status, and cultural difference. This interdisciplinary conference brings together scholars whose research relates to unfreedom before the advent of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Panels and plenary sessions will focus on the definitions, cultural significance, and evolution of unfreedom in disparate parts of the medieval world, from the Caribbean, across the Mediterranean, and into East Asia.


OCTOBER 19, 12:00 – 1:15
'Unfreedom' as Nuanced and Unfolding in Medieval West Africa
Michael Gomez, Prof. of History and Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies, NYU

OCTOBER 19, 4:15 – 5:30
Abbasid-Era Courtesans and the Question of Solidarity
Matthew Gordon, Prof. of History, Miami University, Ohio

OCTOBER 20, 4:30 – 5:45
Unfreedom and Color Symbolism in Medieval Europe
Steven A. Epstein, Ahmanson-Murphy Distinguished Prof. of Medieval History Emeritus, University of Kansas

*Thank you to our sponsors: The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation; Citizenship, Rights, and Cultural Belonging TAE of Binghamton University; The SUNY Conversations in the Disciplines program for "Intercampus Scholarly Conferences"; The Medieval Academy of America; and the Binghamton University President's Office.

Last Updated: 10/12/18