Henry Chamberlain, Quitandeiras da Lapa, 1819-1820. Museu de Arte de São Paulo.
Between 1760 and 1860, roughly sixty-five to seventy slave narratives have been published in North America or England. 'I have been a slave, I have felt what a slave feels and I know what a slave knows ... hear from a slave what a slave has felt and suffered', wrote Mary Prince in 1831, describing what it was like to be enslaved. Not surprisingly, slave narratives are considered privileged sites (albeit not the only) to enquire into the experience of slave consciousness of their condition – in the words of Frederick Douglas, in 1845, “my wretched condition, without the remedy”. These slave narratives – some of them picturing slavery as a benign institution -, as well as interviews to former slaves, have attracted scholarly attention for the last decades. They provided crucial material for understanding the making of slave public memory, and historians have used them as windows to access the experience of these individuals which lives were mainly seen as statistics. Religious beliefs, affective world, worldviews, modes of resistance, everyday experience, became more accessible, especially to the scholar working on Caribbean and American slavery, where these narratives have been produced.
How can scholars working on Iberian forms of slavery (Atlantic, but not only), where slave narratives are rare, access to slave experiences, slave viewpoints, slave voices? How can slave memory be assessed? Which “archives” and historical sources can be used to recover these crucial dimensions of slave history before and after abolitionism, until today? And why these type of sources is absent in Iberian slave experiences? How is this absence related with the political cultures that characterized Iberia? Which are the differences between the Portuguese and the Spanish experiences? How this discussion can help us to compare experiences within and beyond the Iberian world?
The conference Slave Subjectivities in the Iberian World (15th-20th centuries) aims at addressing these questions and discussing ways of studying slave experiences in the Iberian world. As such, it invites students of colonialisms to analytically address the multiple expressions of slave experience, in Iberian metropolitan and colonial territories, by engaging with empirical material and theoretical explorations. The conference has two main purposes. On the one hand, it will seek to cross-fertilize the study of slave experience as a historical phenomenon across the different geographies and temporalities of the Iberian colonialism, comparing it with other colonialisms. On the other hand, it will reassess the potential and limitations of the study of slave experiences in the Iberian world, due to the absence of the typical sources to study these dimensions of slave history, inviting scholars to think about the conditions of knowledge production, and creative methodological alternatives. The conference will adopt a multi-disciplinary framework, aiming to get together historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, and other humanities scholars and social scientists. Additionally, it encourages a comparative examination of “slave experiences” in relation to diverse places and historical periods.