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CfP: The Cost of Freedom: Debt and Slavery

Tuesday, August 16, 2016   (0 Comments)

The Cost of Freedom: Debt and Slavery

A conference in the Ethyle R. Wolfe Series on Classical Studies and the Contemporary World
19–20 May 2017
Brooklyn College, City University of New York

The rhetorics of freedom and liberty permeate the political discourse of the present and Greco-Roman antiquity. Speakers judge this language and its associated symbols positively, and assume their audiences do as well. But the principles defining freedom, and its associated values, can and do shift dramatically from one context to another. In short we can all agree freedom is good, but we cannot agree what it means to be free. One of the key sites of contention is who needs to sacrifice what in order to achieve liberty and what costs must be paid to preserve freedom. The pursuit of liberty is directly linked to whose freedom matters as well as who bears — and who is assumed to bear — the associated costs.

All of this is especially true in any discussion of slavery. This conference will bring scholars from numerous disciplines into conversation across the historical timeline to examine how debt, value and payment work to create freedom, liberty and slavery. Although these are slippery concepts, rather than simply viewing these terms as rhetorical devices that make freedom seem worthwhile, we deploy debt, value, and payment as analytical tools for understanding why slavery harms and why freedom matters. Because various discourses — ranging from religion to science and from ethics to economics — use these terms to describe freedom, whether as physical labor or a mental activity, we will also investigate debt, value and payment themselves. Often our methods of assessments bleed one into another, especially in conversations regarding individual and shared liberties. By juxtaposing the different methodologies scholars use to ask “what does freedom cost?” from Greco-Roman antiquity to the present, we will explore overlapping areas of research and expand the existing conversations in each discipline.

In addition to providing vocabularies, practices and theories of freedom that we still use today, Ancient Greece and Rome provide many examples of peoples who lacked freedom but strove for it, including slaves, women and conquered peoples. By examining Greco-Roman antiquity and modernity, we bring to light recurrent historical patterns of the costs that people have paid and continue to pay for freedom. Our ultimate goal is to produce a rigorous edited volume of the most substantial and unified conference contributions for publication by a major university press.

Our confirmed keynote speakers include, Orlando Patterson (John Cowles Professor of Sociology, Harvard University), Saidiya Hartman (Professor, English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University) and Deborah Kamen (Associate Professor, Classics, University of Washington). We are seeking contributions for at least four panels of 3–4 participants each. We hope to attract participation from a wide range of academic disciplines and from scholars at all levels, and will try to reflect this diversity in our creation of each broad panel. Examples of possible panel titles might be: “Themes of Freedom and Payment in the Novel”, “The Economics of Emancipation”, “Cross-Cultural Political Theories of Sacrifices and Liberty”, “Comparative Histories of Debt-Bondage”, or “The Shifting Demographics of Civil Liberties”. We will be offering a minimum of six bursaries of up to 500 dollars to be awarded on the basis of greatest need, taking into account access to institutional funding and the distance of the conference from the participant’s home institution.

31 October 2016 is the deadline for the submission of abstracts. Please include the following as separate files:

  1. Title, abstract of 300-500 words, a one page bibliography (no self identifying information please!)
  2. Your name, title of your proposed talk, institutional affiliation, short academic biography, and an indication of whether you would like to be considered for a bursary, a budget for the amount requested, and any information we should take into consideration when making our bursary allocations.
These two files (PDF or MSWord preferred) should be sent to: c-f-p@debtandslavery.com. General questions on this conference should be sent to: queries@debtandslavery.com. We hope to notify successful applicants by 15 November. 31 March 2017 will be the deadline for submission of draft papers for pre-circulation among fellow panelists and organizers. We will also invite poster submissions from undergraduates conducting research on related themes; the deadline for poster proposals will be 1 March 2017. Please note that deadlines are subject to change. For the most recent announcements about deadlines, see our website: https://debtandslavery.com/


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