Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Leading Early American Scholarship Since 1943

Trans-American Crossings: Enslaved Migrations within the Americas and Their Impacts on Slave Cultures and Societies

June 1–3, 2018

John Carter Brown Library

The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, in conjunction with the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, announces a call for papers for a conference exploring enslaved migrations within the Americas. Over the past several decades a rich slave trade historiography has illuminated much about the infamous Middle Passage across the Atlantic, but for hundreds of thousands of African captives journeys continued upon reaching the New World. Colonial merchants (not just planters) purchased enslaved people who reached American ports from Africa, and these speculators often rerouted African captives to other colonies for profitable re-sale. Though great strides have been made in understanding the Middle Passage (and the slave trade within Africa), the story of African captives’ diaspora within the Americas is only beginning to be told. “American Crossings” invites scholars to reassess important questions about the Atlantic slave trade and the African diaspora, with a particular emphasis on how enslaved people arrived in various American locales (whether directly or indirectly from Africa) and how that shaped cultural formations, the lived experiences of the enslaved, merchants networks, and policies governing slavery.

The conference will be held June 1–3, 2018, at the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

The conference organizers invite paper proposals concerning (but not limited to) the following questions: To what degree did captives endure the Atlantic slave trade in stages, and how did these multiple phases affect not only the migration experience, but also people’s ensuing lives in the Americas and cultural formations in enslaved communities? How did enslaved people cross imperial boundaries in the Americas and what were the legalities of such movement? Does the study of intra-American forced migrations change scholarly understandings of cultural patterns in the African diaspora or demographics in slave societies? How does consideration of the Atlantic slave trade’s multiple stages impact analysis of the profits gained at the expense of enslaved people’s freedom and forced movements? How did intra-American slave trading vary across American regions, and what were the implications of those regional patterns for slave societies? To what degree did patterns of age, gender, health, or ethnicity shape intra-American slave movements? How did the varied experiences in these slave routes shape conceptions of gender and race?

In addition to the questions above, the committee invites paper proposals that focus on knowledge production as a whole. This includes questions such as: How do archival limitations inhibit the study of the slave trade? And how should scholars proceed, in light of the clear biases and silences of the archive?

The conference encourages proposals that use new formats, employ different methods or analytics, and put varied approaches into conversation with one another. For those interested, a draft version of a new intra-American slave trade database (supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities; expected to launch in 2018) will be made available to conference participants in the months before the conference, but presenters are in no way required to use the database or engage with it directly in their papers. We seek proposals featuring an array of methodological and theoretical approaches, critiques of the archive and the quantitative, and/or visualizations and literary approaches.

Proposals for papers or other formats of presentation must be received electronically no later than October 26, 2017.

All submissions should include a one-page summary of each paper and a one-page CV for each participant. Each CV should include mail and email addresses and telephone numbers. Panel and other presentation proposals should include a one-paragraph description of the panel or presentation’s aims as well as the paper summaries and participant CVs described above. Questions regarding submissions should be directed to Martha Howard at

Program Committee Chairs

  • Alex Borucki, University of California, Irvine
  • Jennifer L. Morgan, New York University
  • Gregory E. O’Malley, University of California, Santa Cruz