Lisa Phongsavath
© Lisa Phongsavath

Lisa Phongsavath

University of Bonn
Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies
Research Associate in Research Group
Coerced Circulation of Knowledge
Adenauerallee 18–22
D-53113 Bonn


Daughters in Debt:
Trading Girls and Girlhood in the Pre-Modern Tai States and Southeastern China

Focusing on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, my PhD project investigates the traffic of girls as domestic slaves in the Tai states of mainland Southeast Asia and its parallel practices in Southeastern China. It aims to develop an intra-Asian history of gendered asymmetrical dependency based on the physical exchange of female domestic slaves as well as transregional knowledge circulations about girlhood, which I seek to explore as two interwoven phenomena.

In times of financial hardship, it was common practice that rural and peasant families sold their female family members, often young daughters, to be bonded maidservants in wealthier households. In its ideal form, this bondage was temporary. I investigate the social and cultural processes that engendered this kind of domestic slavery, particularly through the spaces where mentalities of dependency and girlhood intersect, and their modes of articulation, production and exchange.

The both intimate and public world of (forced) domestic labor, where personal kinship relationships combine with wider, asymmetrical socio-economic dynamics, is a fascinating site for analysis, which is simultaneously conditioned by gendered knowledge, as it also plays a role in its multifaceted production. More broadly, my aim is to rupture the conceptual separation of the Tai (Southeast Asian) and Chinese (East Asian) space in studies of slavery, gender and girlhood, while also considering local vocabularies and adaptations as crucial to understanding the currents of their transregional exchanges.


  • 2020–2023                 Ph.D. in History, Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies, University of Bonn, Germany
  • 2017–2020                 M.A. in Global History, Free University of Berlin and Humboldt University Berlin, Germany
  • 2015–2016                 Exchange Studies, University of Constance, Germany
  • 2012–2016                 B.A. in History and German Language and Culture, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

Academic Position

  • 2020–present             Research Associate in Research Group Coerced Circulation of Knowledge, University of Bonn, Germany
  • 2018–2020                 Student Assistant in Communication and Publications, Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin, Germany
  • 2016–2020                 Junior Researcher, Facts and Files, Historical Research Institute, Berlin, Germany

Participation in Centers, Scientific Associations, Collaborative Projects

  • 2017–2020                 Member of Editorial Team, "Global Histories: A Student Journal"
  • 2017–2020                 Member of Organizing Team, "Global History Student Conference"

Recent Publications

  • With Martina Yeo Huijun: Review of Studying Singapore Before 18002. Guan, K.C., Borschberg, P. (eds.): Singapore: NUS Press, 2018, Global Histories 5, no. 1 (May 2019), 156–161.
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