Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lecture Series

The Cluster has established a lecture series in the memory of Joseph C. Miller. We regularly invite scholars from all over the world to present their ongoing research and offer them the possibility to publish a revised version of their lectures in the Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lecture Series. All manuscripts submitted for publication in the Cluster's publishing series of the JCMML are subject to a thorough double-blind peer review process. The editors are Jeannine Bischoff, Abdelkader Al Ghouz and Sarah Dusend.


Fernanda Pirie: Moral Dilemmas in Slave-Owning Societies: Evidence from Early Legal Texts

Abstract: Slavery is not a natural state. It arises when people or classes in a society assume the right to treat others as their property. And yet the status of slaves has rarely been defined by law, even when slavery was an accepted social fact. This publication examines the laws that did deal with slavery, from the earliest written rules in Mesopotamia, India, China, Rome, and the Islamic world, to medieval Europe and Tibet. It is evident that, rather than offering comprehensive definitions, the lawmakers were dealing with the complications that arose from the instability of the state, including issues of manumission, legal capacity, and the status of children. People could become slaves without the need for legal intervention, as a result of warfare or debt, but many slaves acquired freedoms, presenting complications that the lawmakers tried to address. They also, in many cases, hint at moral discomfort, suggesting that the act of lawmaking forced slave-owners to face up to the fact that they were treating other people as property.

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 7.
Berlin: EB Verlag 2021.

Joseph C Miller Lecture Vol 7
© EB Verlag

Bruno Lamas: When Looms Begin to Weave by Themselves: The Decomposition of Capitalism, Automation and the Problem of "Modern Slavery"

Abstract: Aristotle once said that if looms were to weave by themselves masters would not need slaves. The historical trajectory of capitalism seems to place humanity in the exact opposite situation: on the one hand, the accelerated scientific development of the productive forces and the rise of automation processes, on the other hand, a diversification and intensification on a worldwide scale of forms of “unfree labour,” often classified as “modern slavery.” Several studies have approached these phenomena as remnants of “pre-capitalism;” others see them as moments of an “ongoing primitive accumulation;” still others interpret them as extreme cases of “fully functional capitalism” or “neoliberal capitalism.” In this paper the author intends (i) to show the different theoretical problems of these approaches and (ii) to argue that the phenomena of “modern slavery” are more adequately understood through a perspective of global decomposition of capitalism, a process that began with the third industrial revolution of microelectronics and is now accelerating with the emerging automation, intensifying a violent logic of demobilization of labour power and containment of “superfluous” populations. 

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 6.
Berlin: EB Verlag 2021.

© EB Verlag

María Fernanda Ugalde: Clay embodiments: Materializing Asymmetrical Relations in Pre-Hispanic Figurines from Ecuador.

Abstract: The longest tradition of figurine production in the Americas is found on the Ecuadorian coast, beginning with the Valdivia culture around 3500 BC and ending with the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, or possibly even later. In this article, figurines from different cultures and time periods in this tradition are analyzed with an emphasis on body politics, presenting the author’s reflections about how these artifacts embody ancient relations between people, especially with regard to gender asymmetries. It also discusses at some length the question of how contemporary perspectives for analyzing ancient materials are often influenced by western, patriarchal, ideology-laden interpretations. Although the corpus of figurines analyzed in this research is well known, prior to this study it has not been considered from the perspective of gender asymmetries, even though it is an excellent source of data for such analyses, especially in a diachronic perspective. The study argues that the figurine traditions of particular cultures implicitly emphasize some ideals, such as naturalizing the idea of females depending on males. The author argues that the frequent representations of female individuals associated with pregnancy and childcare can be seen as a political agenda designed to idealize the roles of mother and wife for women, and to limit the influence of female individuals in public activities connected to power and authority. 

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 5.
Berlin: EB Verlag 2021.

© EB Verlag

Trevor Burnard: From "Little Better than Slaves" to "Cowskin Hereos": Poor White People in Jamaica, 1655-1782.

Abstract: The principal axes along which seventeenth and eighteenth-century Jamaica divided were those of colour and of freedom. By the late eighteenth century, it became axiomatic that all Protestant whites were free and that all blacks were either enslaved or marked out for discriminatory action as a result of not being white. But this situation was new: before the Seven Years’ War and the trauma of Tacky’s Revolt in 1760, a considerable proportion of the white population was unfree, including many indentured servants and, before 1718, convicts. This article estimates the numbers of unfree whites before the 1760s, allows as far as sources allow some voice to these poor whites, and examines their status as unfree people in a society increasingly oriented around principles of white supremacy. Over time, the political and economic position of ordinary whites dramatically improved as the principles of white racial superiority took hold in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. It meant that the people somewhat derisively called ʻcowskin heroes’ due to their penchant for lording it over enslaved people were in the ascendant as the principles of white racial superiority took hold as the foundations of social, economic and political order in the island. 

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 4.
Berlin: EB Verlag 2021.

© EB Verlag


Caroline Laske: Medieval Women in the Très Ancien Coutumier de Normandie: Textual Representation of Asymmetrical Dependencies.

Abstract: This paper examines the legal capacity which secular women enjoyed or lacked in late medieval Normandy. The issue is particularly relevant to decoding asymmetrical dependencies, since a lack of legal capacity was the quintessential expression of women’s inferior position and dependency in society and in the eyes of the law. The research discussed in this paper reveals the extent of that legal dependency in real, rhetorical and linguistic terms. It involves examining the textual and semantic representation of women in Norman customary law texts, by using diachronic linguistics and terminological methodologies. The study confirms the assumption that women in thirteenth century Normandy had relatively low legal capacity and found themselves in asymmetrical dependencies on men, especially on their husbands. The narrative told in the Coutumier of men is not only more substantial but also considerably more varied and thus contextually richer. The approach has allowed us to go beyond content analysis and get a better understanding of the actual social experience of women’s legal capacity by compounding information and data from analysis of content, meanings, terminology and discourse and, hence, providing a contextualized understanding of the dependencies in which women existed in their daily lives. 

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 3.
Berlin: EB Verlag 2020.

© EB Verlag

Maria Ågren: At the Intersection of Labour History and Digital Humanities: What Vaguely Described Work Can Tell Us about Labour Relations in the Past.

Abstract: We can describe work in many ways: as income, prestigious titles, and concrete tasks. We can also describe work vaguely, simply as ‘working’, ‘serving’, ‘helping’ or ‘being’. In the past as today, this was often true for work carried out by people in subordinate positions. However, the work of those in leading positions could also be talked about in unspecific and blank terms. While the vagueness of historical sources with respect to work can be annoying to the historian of labor, the good news is that sources can instead be more vocal about the social and economic relations that people were entangled in because of their work: with and for whom they worked and under what rules. This book uses evidence from early modern Sweden to discuss these patterns, showing that a common way of talking about one’s work was to specify whom it benefitted: an employer, a family member, a relative. The author suggests ways in which historians and computer linguists can join forces efficiently to uncover the many dependencies that work has created over time.

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 2.
Berlin: EB Verlag 2020.

© EB Verlag

Richard B. Allen: Slave, Convict, and Indentured Labor and the Tyranny of the Particular.

Abstract: In Slave, Convict and Indentured Labor and the Tyranny of the Particular, distinguished historian Richard B. Allen draws on forty-five years of research on slavery and indentured labor in the Indian Ocean world and Asia to challenge scholars to look beyond the chronological, conceptual, and geographical confines of the specialized case studies that characterize research on slavery and related forms of migrant labor and situate their studies in more fully developed local, regional, pan-regional, and comparative contexts. As this inaugural Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lecture at the Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies demonstrates, the globality of European slave trading and abolitionism and the connections between the slave, convict, and indentured labor trades in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century colonial world highlight the need to adopt more holistic approaches to studying the nature, dynamics, and impact of the human experience with slavery and cognate forms of forced labor in both the past and the present.

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 1.
Berlin: EB Verlag 2020.

© EB Verlag
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