Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lecture Series

The BCDSS has established a lecture series in 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" (JCMML). All manuscripts submitted for publication are subject to a double-blind peer review process. The editors are Janico Albrecht, Jeannine Bischoff and Sarah Dusend.

Would you like to contribute to the JCMML? Proposals can be submitted by anyone. Please ensure your contribution is clearly connected to the BCDSS’s concept of "strong asymmetrical dependency". If you would like to submit a proposal please contact


Our Gold Open Access to the Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lecture Series published by EB-Verlag is now fully in place. As of now, our quality, peer-reviewed scholarship is free to read and download

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- 2023 -

Kristalyn Marie Shefveland: Virginia’s Eastern Shore and Edmund Scarburgh: Indigenous Labor and the Plantation Economy in the Seventeenth Century

English settler colonies introduced a new market structure to the Native peoples of the Chesapeake watershed. Alongside trade in goods, traders and merchants exchanged peoples for labor. The Eastern Shore of the Virginia colony provides an interesting case study that provides a clear picture of the importance of Native laborers alongside African and English laborers in the early plantation economy. Power dynamics in colonial Virginia were characterized by social hierarchies, economic interests, and the exercise of authority by influential individuals. By examining cases of illegal indenture and enslavement of Native peoples by Colonel Edmund Scarburgh in the 17th century, one can see that Scarburgh emerges as an unstoppable vigilante both at the time and in historical memory, because of his accumulation of wealth and power through the Indigenous slave trade as well as his transatlantic trade interests. Physically, and in many ways legally, isolated from the rest of the Virginia colony, the case study presented herein serves as a window into the power machinations and ambitions of one man and his desire to build his plantation empire unchecked by any conventions or rules of law.

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 20
Berlin: EB Verlag 2023

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Dennis Mario Beck: Systems of Dependent Labour in Roman Imperial Quarries. The Chaîne Opératoire as a Method for Identifying Dependencies

Quarries are an interdisciplinary research topic for scholars who are interested in technical organization, economy, work processes and supply chains. In antiquity, the quarrying and trade of stone were highly dependent on persons from a variety of legal status groups and their cooperation in networks and institutions. Research shows that during the high Roman Empire, some quarries both belonged to the Roman emperor and were operated by an administrative structure that was highly dependent on him. Although the administrations were organized in a strict hierarchy, they depended much more on the emperor and the officials he employed than on the legal statuses of individuals. Slaves and freedmen gained importance due to their specialization in business. Characteristic is the cooperation of these actors within different fields of work in the economy, but in many cases it cannot be determined in detail merely from the sources, and requires research models. By using the chaîne opératoire and analyzing the quarry at Simitthus as an example, the paper shows to what extent this methodology is suitable for identifying dependency relationships between individuals. In addition, interagency and spatial relations can serve as indicators of dependencies among the actors, and network analysis offers insights into administrations in imperial quarries.  

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 19
Berlin: EB Verlag 2023

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Nabil Matar: Arabic Accounts of Mediterranean Captivity, 1517–1798

The history of captivity in the early modern Mediterranean has been studied exclusively through European and Ottoman/Turkish sources. But from Aghadir to Alexandretta, the language of piety, travel, religious disputation, and chronicle was Arabic (sometimes written as Garshuni). An extensive archive has survived in Arabic describing the experiences of Muslims, Eastern Christians, and Jews in European captivity. After all, from the middle of the seventeenth century on, British and French fleets, with their advanced naval capabilities, seized large numbers of captives from the ‘other shore’ (to cite Braudel) – captives who have been ignored in scholarship but survive in numerous sculptures from Spain and Germany to Malta and Hungary.
This study continues the research into the Arabic archive by introducing further accounts about captivity by European pirates and privateers, showing how the Mediterranean became the scene of Christian masters and Arabic-speaking slaves. Not surprising, by the nineteenth century, a Moroccan traveler prayed that the Mediterranean become a barrier/hājiz against European depredations.  

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 18
Berlin: EB Verlag 2023

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Timothy J. Coates and Geraldo Pieroni: Castro Marim: Where Sin Became Salt in Portugal’s Algarve, 1450–1836

Castro Marim, in SE Portugal, was a site of internal exile for several thousand minor sinners and convicts from the 1400s until the 1830s. The punishment was revived by the Estado Novo dictatorship a century later. During early modern times, the guilty could flee to several border towns for sanctuary. The state’s courts and later courts of the Inquisition directed minor offenders to this town, typically for two to three years. These newcomers were forced to either enter the local work force or flee. Here we see a detailed example of social control and coordination between the early modern Church and state. Crime, sin, punishment, redemption, sanctuary, the Enlightenment, monopolies, and smuggling interact with this system of forced labor. Sanctuary, internal exile, and town of free people created a unique legal and social space. This labor force was long-lasting, flexible, and useful. Tax evasion and smuggling forced Lisbon to create neighboring Vila Real de Santo António, with tighter fiscal control and free labor which would eventually supersede this forced labor system in Castro Marim. Internal exile was a semi-independent judicial component linked to manpower needs overseas, ending as those demands increased. 

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 17
Berlin: EB Verlag 2023

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Ibrahim Maina Waziri: The Chima Fiefdom System in Kanem-Bornu and its Transformation into District Head Administration in British Borno, Northern Nigeria (19th and 20th Centuries)

The study of the Chima system in pre–colonial and colonial Borno provides insights into how an administrative system, known as Chima, developed, how it was operated in the pre-colonial sub-Saharan African kingdom Kanem-Borno and subsequently transformed under British colonial rule in the 20th century. It explores the adoption and adaptation process of an indigenous form of ′absentee landlord′ administration into the colonial administrative set-up of the policy of indirect rule or ruling indirectly. The new system evolved as the local government administration in Borno and the whole of Nigeria after independency in 1960, thereby adapting the pre-colonial Chima system into a colonial and post-colonial administrative system. The significance of this background history of Kanem–Bornu is to show its importance in African history and its significant strategic location as a player in the relationship between North Africa, the Sahara Desert, and the Central Sudan in sub–Saharan Africa.

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 16
Berlin: EB Verlag 2023

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Rafael de Bivar Marquese: Asymmetrical Dependencies in the Making of a Global Commodity - Coffee in the Longue Durée

The present-day patterns of coffee production and consumption are rooted in the legacies of colonialism and slavery, but surprisingly the global history of the relationships between this commodity and slavery and other forms of asymmetrical dependencies has not been written yet. In this short monograph, Rafael de Bivar Marquese presents a proposal on how to do so. In its first part, it argues that historically specific forms of asymmetrically dependent labor that were mobilized for coffee production from the mid-sixteenth century to the late nineteenth century can be better understood from how they were situated in three different, global coffee economies that overlapped in this longue durée. The  monograph presents an overview of each, highlighting their main characteristics and in particular the relationships between different labor regimes within each one of them. In its second part, it discusses the three main theoretical and methodological axes that guide the proposal.

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 15
Berlin: EB Verlag 2023

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- 2022 -

Kostas Vlassopoulos: Enslaved Persons and Their Multiple Identities in Ancient Societies

This lecture explores the multiple identities of enslaved persons in ancient societies. Ancient masters and slaveholding societies often behaved as if the only identity that mattered for enslaved persons was their classification as slaves. While slave classification had profound implications, it was not the only identity that mattered. Employing key conceptual tools from the study of identities, it analyses the diversity of the identities of enslaved persons around six axes. The first axis concerns the imposed identity of slavery and its impact on the self-understanding of enslaved persons. The second examines work and function and the extent to which these led to the creation of identities. The third focuses on gender, family and kinship: male and female identities and the identities and roles of spouses, partners, parents, children, siblings and relatives. The fourth explores ethnic and religious identities. The fifth concerns time: the identities of freedpersons and of enslaved persons who had lived as free and how these identities related to their past. Finally, the sixth axis explores the entanglement between the diverse identities of enslaved persons and the groupness of slave identities. 

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 14
Berlin: EB Verlag 2022

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Girija Joshi: Redefining ‘Legitimate’ Dependencies in a Panjabi Riyāsat: Local and Colonial Perspectives

This essay traces the changing contours of a Panjabi state during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It focuses on the Kalsia principality, founded by a family of rural warlords who had transformed themselves from village elders to the rulers of a distinct principality within a generation. Using a chronicle left by a retainer and scribe of the Kalsia administration, it studies a handful of the chiefly lineage’s dependents (tābeʻīn), to try to understand what their position within the ruling household was, what rendered them dependent, and what kept them loyal. It argues that jural status was of some, but not determinant, importance in creating deeply hierarchical bonds; just as important was the value that patron and client, master and slave alike attached to such unequal relations, as a source of honour, status, and influence. This value was moreover shared across and attached to a range of relationships, from kinship bonds to servitude, blurring the distinction between family and service. This began to change, at least in law, in the wake of colonization, as the British sought to impose fixed boundaries on the household, to progressively strip ruling houses of their land.

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 13
Berlin: EB Verlag 2022

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Henry B. Lovejoy: Mapping Conflict during the Era of the Slave Trade - Metadata Schema for a Spatial Statistical Model and Digital Archive of Enforced Migrations in Pre-Colonial Africa

Labelled a crime against humanity by the United Nations in 2011, the slave trade and its legacy of bondage unfortunately continue to shape modern society through racism, discrimination, and unconscious bias. For those who were silenced, and for their descendants, there is little reconciliation. Without knowing their individual stories – where they came from, where they were taken – this part of human history remains a generalized story of mass atrocity, lacking details about the experiences of enslaved human beings. While historians have amassed data for over 12.5 million people involved in the Atlantic slave trade between 1500 and 1867, we have not been able to piece together enforced population movements from specific African places inland to slave ships at the coast. By applying methods from GIScience and spatial statistics, it is possible to learn about global migrations resulting from slavery within pre-colonial Africa. By extracting spatial data from primary and secondary sources, it is possible to design a spatial data repository and digital archive of pre-colonial African places with instances of conflict to operate on a temporal scale with Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 12
Berlin: EB Verlag 2022

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- 2021 -

Enrique Martino: How to Create a Labour Market in Colonial Situations - Spanish Guinea, Southern Cameroon and Northern Gabon, 1890s–1940s

This study is, at once, a historical critique of neoclassical and Marxist economics of labour market formation, a critical history of the colonization of continental Equatorial Guinea by France, Germany and Spain, and a comparative inquiry of the labour recruiters who forged the gateways to expanding imperial peripheries of colonial production. A recruitment boom for the cacao plantations of the Spanish island of Fernando Po swept into Rio Muni and the Fang areas of southern Cameroon and northern Gabon during the first half of the twentieth century. By documenting the volatile phases as well as the recruitment techniques for this great boom and eventual bust, the author argues that recruiters have usually been empirically conflated or conceptually obviated even though they stood in sharp contrast to the slave trade or state-organized forced labour schemes. They were key informal vectors of commercial conquest across a variety of times and regions, and operated non-violently by way of persuasive and distorted communication and immanently through credit and money creation in the form of gifts and advance payments.

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 11
Berlin: EB Verlag 2021

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Paola Revilla Orías: Historicizing the Yanacona - Methodological Decisions, Implications and Challenges

Based on the critical analysis of historiographic assertions focused on the study of Yanaconazgo as a long-standing labor institution, this text proposes various key factors to broaden the historical perspective. It is supported by concrete data from the context of the jurisdiction of La Plata in Charcas (Bolivia) between the sixteen and eighteenth centuries, which provides a glimpse into the complexity of this labor system, as well as the diversity of situations of both free and unfree servitude in which workers of different origins, genders and ages were immersed. The study encourages a breaking away from methodological attachments or other constraints that may lead to uncritical repetition of certain terms of a proscribing nature. At the same time, it gives an approach to the daily functions that gradually molded this labor institution and that remind us that history is engineered by people’s actions.

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 10
Berlin: EB Verlag 2021

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Andrea Binsfeld: Dominus and Tyrannos? Narratives of Slavery in the Political Discourse of Late Antiquity

Late Roman authors give us many examples of how firmly images of slavery were anchored in the minds of contemporaries, and how these images were incorporated into literary tradition and political discourse. Images from the world of slavery could be used in a great variety of ways: to criticize an emperor’s behavior, to illustrate his loss of authority, or to characterize the relationship between two emperors. The book will show how the presentation and perception of Late Roman emperors, such as Diocletian and his co-emperors, were influenced by narratives from the world of slavery. These narratives form part of a power discourse, a discourse on power relations. Or to speak with Hayden White, “And this raises the suspicion that narrative in general, from the folktale to the novel, from the annals to the fully realized ʻhistory’, has to do with the topics of law, legality, legitimacy, or, more generally, authority”.

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 9
Berlin: EB Verlag 2021

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Damian Alan Pargas: Performing Freedom: Strategies of Escaping Slavery in Southern Cities, 1810–1860

"Performing Freedom" examines the attempts by enslaved African Americans living in the nineteenth-century US South to escape slavery by fleeing to towns and cities within the slaveholding states and disguising themselves as free blacks. Going to great lengths to "look" and "act" free—often even acquiring forged free papers—thousands of enslaved people "passed for free" in urban areas with large free black communities. Such strategies of escape underscore the importance of visibility to the successful development of slavery as an institution and reveal how enslaved people attempted to erase visible markers of enslavement to live in freedom.

Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lectures Series, Vol. 8
Berlin: EB Verlag 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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- 2020 -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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