From Bodies to Things: The Commodification of Human Life in the Early Modern Atlantic [Day 1]

Friday, May 19, 2023
9:00 am – 5:00 pm

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
2520 Cimarron Street

–conference organized by Tawny Paul and Andrew Apter (University of California, Los Angeles)

This conference is free of charge. To attend the conference in person, you must reserve your space by submitting the booking form at the bottom of this page. Bookings close on Monday, May 15, 2023 at 5:00 p.m.

All attendees must adhere to the UCLA COVID-19 Protocol for Organized Events. This protocol will be in effect until further notice and adjusted as needed to respond to evolving public health conditions.

Face masks: It is strongly recommended that all attendees at indoor campus events wear a highly protective mask (i.e. surgical, N95, KN95, or KP94).

Requirements for event entry: All  attendees must present  proof  of  COVID-19  vaccination  or proof  of  negative  COVID-19 test per Los Angeles County Department of Public Health guidelines.

This conference will consider the commodification of human labor and life throughout the Atlantic during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Disparate examples of commodification cross geographic and disciplinary boundaries, and they are rarely brought into conversation. Yet considering the range of ways in which human life and labor were commodified offers numerous opportunities to think beyond current paradigms of labor, commerce, and power in the Atlantic world. First, it forces us to think beyond the freedom/unfreedom binary normally invoked in Atlantic histories of labor. Second, it provides new perspectives to address questions of the fluidity between objecthood and personhood normally pursued from material culture perspectives. Third, it highlights the development of modern ideologies of race and gender. Finally, it encourages us to think expansively about the role of human bodies in the transmutation of different value forms. People participated in global commerce not only as consumers, producers, agents or forms of chattel, but as apparitions and pawns who facilitated the mobility of commodities in a nascent capitalist economy. The conference will be interdisciplinary in nature, drawing on historical and anthropological perspectives. It aims to bring European and African case studies into an Afro-Atlantic historical frame.


Ana Lucia Araujo, Howard University and Getty Research Institute
Bradley L. Craig, Concordia University
Pablo F. Gómez, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Polly Lowe, University of Exeter
Susan A. C. Rosenfeld, UCSD T. Denny Sanford Institute for Empathy and Compassion
Stephanie E. Smallwood, University of Washington
Sasha Turner, The Johns Hopkins University
Deborah Valenze, Barnard College, Columbia University