Arts and Science Workshop Series: The Archive of the Iberian Slave Trade: Death, Value and Historical Ethics


Tuesday, April 30, 2019, 6:00pm to 8:00pm


CGIS South, S250, 1730 Cambridge Street


Speaker: Anna More, Professor, Universidade de Brasília

Moderator: Mariano Siskind, Professor, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures

The sixteenth- and seventeenth-century slave trade was predominantly Iberian, with the Portuguese controlling much of the central African coast and the Spanish controlling the ports of sale in the Americas. This seminar will address the ethics of reading and writing about documents from this early slave trade. Drawing on recent work on the archive of slavery, it will make the case that the early slave trade involves problems distinct from those found in works on the later trade. Rather than assuming commodification, witnesses to the early slave trade understood the anomaly of assigning economic value to human life and death. Yet the great majority also sought to justify what was quickly becoming integral to global markets. The talk will cover the distinct positions found in early debates on the justification of the slave trade, expressions of religious conscience, and the ledgers of slave traders. From these sources, the talk will focus on the forms in which the written archive of the early slave trade participated in its justification and the difficulty that this poses for historians who would like to counter its logic. It will discuss various recent approaches to writing about the archive of slavery and consider these as possible avenues for writing on the early trade. Finally, it will make the case for the importance of the archive of the early slave trade both for the history of slavery and its consequences and as a site for denaturalizing the market as the means to value all things, including human life.

Anna More is Professor of Hispanic Literatures in the Department of Literary Theory and Literatures at the University of Brasília. She received a B.A. from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Hispanic Languages and Literatures from the University of California, Berkeley. She is the editor of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Selected Works, a Norton Critical Edition (W.W. Norton, 2016) and author of Baroque Sovereignty: Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora and the Creole Archive of Colonial Mexico (U Penn Press, 2013), which won honorable mention for best book in humanities from the Mexico Section of the Latin American Studies Association. She is also author of a number of articles on seventeenth-century Iberian texts and the baroque and the co-editor of two forthcoming collections: Iberian Empires and the Roots of Globalization (Vanderbilt University Press) and Machina-Medium-Apparatus (Iberoamericana). Her current book project traces the emergence of an economics of life and death in Iberian writings on the early transatlantic slave trade. In 2019-2020 she will be a fellow at the Folger Institute in Washington D.C.