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Slavery as the Powers Attaching to the Right of Ownership

The Research Network has developed the following Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines on the Legal Parameters of Slavery.
The outcome of the work of the Research Network is an edited collection entitled The Legal Understanding of Slavery: The Historical to the Contemporary (Jean Allain, ed.) which will appear with Oxford University Press in the Autumn of 2012. 

Research Network

    • Principal Investigators :  Professor Jean Allain and Robin Hickey, Durham Law School
    • Participants:
      - Kevin Bales, Free the Slaves
      - John Cairns, University of Edinburgh
      - William 'Chip' Carter, Jr., Temple University  
      - Holly Cullen, University of Western Australia
      - Seymour Drescher, University of Pittsburgh
      - Stanley Engerman, University of Rochester
      - Paul Finkelman, Albany Law School
      - Bernard Freamon, Seton Hall University
      - Allison Gorsuch, Yale University
      - Richard Helmholz, University of Chicago
      - Antony Honoré, University of Oxford
      - Aidan McQuade, Anti-Slavery International
      - Orlando Patterson, Harvard University
      - James Penner, University College London 
      - Joel Quirk, University of Witwatersrand and the Wilberforce Institute (WISE) 
      - Jody Sarich, DePaul University
      - Rebecca Scott, University of Michigan       

Back row: John Cairns, Karlee Sapoznik, Seymour Drescher, Joel Quirk, Jean Allain, Kevin Bales
Front row: Allison Gorsuch, Holly Cullen, Richard Helmholz, Robin Hickey, Bernard Freamon, Jody Sarich, Stanley Engerman, Rebecca Scott

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The Project

Does ‘slavery’ exist today?  If so, what is to be considered slavery an what is not; in other words what are the legal parameters of this notion of slavery? The Project seeks to answer that question and establish what is to be considered slavery in law. 

A group of twenty scholars, experts in their fields will meet on two occasions to give presentations and exchange ideas as to what the legal term ‘slavery’ means.  These presentations will then be collected and published in an edited book and disseminated through concise ‘International Guidelines’ meant to assist judges and legislators in holding people account for modern cases of slavery.

This Research Network will seek to establish the outer limits of the definition of slavery which hinges not on the concept of ‘ownership’ of human beings, but on the ‘powers attaching to the right of ownership’ that is: de facto ownership.

Beyond its main objective, the Research Network comprises a number of early career academics and postgraduate students who will benefit from their interaction with leading scholars. The Network will also comprise individuals from outside the research community, working for the leading anti-slavery NGOs in the United Kingdom and in the United States.

Call for Papers  -- Now Closed

As a result of the following Call for Papers, the Research Network has one new member:

Allison Gorsuch is a graduate student in the History Department at Yale University.

Allison received my BA in American Culture from the University of Michigan. Currently, she is working on her dissertation on servitude, jurisdiction, and local courtroom experience in the territorial Midwestern United States – roughly 1800-1850 in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota. For this Research Network, Allison Gorsuch will explore the extent to which various conceptions of servitude – British, French, American Indian, and United States – coincided with de facto ownership in Midwestern constructions of territorial law. She expects to define more clearly the legal machinations which courts, defendants, and plaintiffs used to define the “powers attaching to ownership,” comparing those cases to ones involving de jure slaves on sojourn in the territories.


 Call for Papers: Leading academics in the field of the law of property and slavery studies extend an invitation for two postgraduate students (LLM, LLD, Masters or PhD) to join their inter-disciplinary Network.

The Research Network, established with the assistance of a United Kingdom Arts and Humanities Research Council Grant entitled: ‘Slavery as the Powers attaching to the Right of Ownership’ seeks two postgraduate students to join, based on a successful one-page abstract, the Network and participate in two symposia (the first in the summer of 2010 in Europe; the second in the summer of 2011 in the United States), developing a chapter-length piece on the parameters of either de jure or de facto ownership as may be applicable to human beings.

The successful candidates will have their travel and accommodations paid; will be full members and participants in the activities of the Research Network; and will develop their research as a chapter to be included in an edited volume of the work of the Network.

The Research Network consists of, inter alia: Kevin Bales, Seymour Drescher, Stanley Engerman, Paul Finkelman, Richard Helmholz, Antony Honoré, Orlando Patterson and Rebecca Scott.

The Research Networks seeks to give content to the ‘powers attaching to the right of ownership’ which is the basis of the accepted international definition of slavery, by determining the parameters of both de jure and de facto ownership of human beings. The Network is thus looking for Papers which will consider different elements of ownership as they may manifest themselves in situations of historical or contemporary slavery. The Network would welcome Papers which had an Asian dimension.

For more information consult the Note of Guidance.

The deadline for submissions of one-page abstract is 15 March 2010.  Abstract should be sent to Jean Allain at: j.allain@qub.ac.uk.

Timetable of Activities

1) January 2010 – Meeting of Steering Committee. University of Oxford.  The Steering Group held a one-day meeting at All Souls College, to plan events, to consider further means of dissemination the work of the Network, and to finalise arrangements for the administration of the Research Network over the next two years.

2) September 2010 – Bellagio Symposium : ‘Considering the Parameters of Slavery’. Participants of this three-day symposium met at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Conference Center, on the shores of Lago de Como, and presented the early findings of their research in workshops and started to draft international guidelines to assist judges and prosecutors in understanding what is meant by the exercise of 'the powers attaching to the right of ownership'.

3) August 2011 – Meeting of Steering Committee. The Steering Group meets for a second time before the Harvard Symposium; to take stock of the outcome of the first Symposium, to draft the ‘International Slavery as the Powers Attaching to the Right of Ownership’; and to make final preparations for the Second international symposium;

4) August 2011 – Harvard Symposium:Slavery as the Powers Attaching to the Right of Ownership’. The two day symposium at Harvard University will allow Members of the Research Network to present the first draft of papers and receive feedback with a look to publication of their papers.  The Harvard Symposium will be co-hosted by the Harvard Department of Sociology, Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, Harvard Law School, and the W.E.B. DuBois Institute.


The Slavery Project