Mothering Slaves: Maternity, Childlessness and the Care of Children During and After Slavery

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Date / time: 19 April - 21 April, All day

University of Reading

Mothering Slaves: Maternity, Childlessness and the Care of Children During and After Slavery

As part of an international research network funded by an AHRC network grant entitled ‘Mothering Slaves: Comparative Perspectives on Motherhood, Childlessness and the Care of Children in Atlantic Slave Societies’ a conference is to be held at the University of Reading, 19-21 April 2016.

Enslaved status in Atlantic societies–indeed, legal slavery since Roman times–was inherited from the mother. Yet although this legal framework made motherhood a central aspect of systems of slavery, the politics and experience of enslaved motherhood remain under-researched, and many studies of specific slave societies examine relatively isolated national or colonial contexts. This conference aims to put gender and motherhood, though women’s reproductive labour and the political significance of that labour, at the heart of an Atlantic-wide history of slavery. We seek proposals for papers that will contribute to:  theorizing the systemic centrality of maternity to the reproduction, abolition, and legacy of systems of slavery; understanding the experience and politics of fertility, infertility, control (and lack of control) of reproduction, pregnancy, birth, maternity, infant feeding and the care of children, child death, and childlessness in slave societies; and examining motherhood as a central trope in representations of slavery, produced both from within and from outside slave societies

The conference will consider the intersections of motherhood and slavery in the broadest sense, including approaches that draw on the disciplines of history, sociology, anthropology, literary studies, visual studies, and cultural studies. It will deal with all areas of the Atlantic world, as well as other slave societies.

The conference will include a reading from the author Andrea Stuart, author of Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire. Andrea Stuart will also be in conversation with Alison Donnell.

For more information please contact the conference organisers:
Emily West ( and Rosie Knight (

For more information on the Mothering Slaves network, please see the network’s website

Conference Organizing Group

Camillia Cowling (Warwick), Rosie Knight (Reading), Maria Helena Machado (São Paulo), Diana Paton (Newcastle), Selina Patel (Newcastle), Lilia Schwarcz (São Paulo), Emily West (Reading).