Motherhood, Childlessness, and the Care of Children from Slavery to Emancipation


Call for Papers

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’ we invite proposals for 20 minute papers for a conference 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

We want to 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. We hope to receive proposals for papers dealing with all areas of the Atlantic world, as well as other slave societies. Proposals that consider the contemporary significance of the themes of the conference, including those of relevance to health workers, are also welcome.

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.

Please email your abstract (in English) of no more than 400 words plus a brief cv of no more than one page in English to the conference organisers, Emily West ( and Rosie Knight (, by 20 September 2015. For more information please contact the conference organisers.

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).

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