From Bodies to Things: The Commodification of Human Life in the Early Modern Atlantic [Day 2]

Saturday, May 20, 2023
9:00 am PDT – 2:00 pm PDT

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. It will be held in person and livestreamed on the Center’s YouTube Channel. To attend the conference in person, you must reserve your space by emailing the center( details at the bottom of this page). Bookings close on Monday, May 15, 2023 at 5:00 p.m.

Face masks are not required but are strongly recommended at all indoor campus events.

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
Herman L. Bennett, The Graduate Center CUNY
Lisa Cody, Claremont McKenna College
Pablo F. Gómez, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Craig Koslofsky, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Paul E. Lovejoy, York University
Polly Lowe, University of Exeter
Susan A. C. Rosenfeld, UCSD T. Denny Sanford Institute for Empathy and Compassion
Sasha Turner, The Johns Hopkins University

Image: The Paston Treason, anonymous, (c. 1670). Norwich Castle Museum. Wikimedia.

To register please email with the following information:

Full name
Email address
Academic Status (such as General Public, UC Staff or Faculty, Student, Other Faculty, etc.)
Academic Institution if applicable
Lunch (Vegetarian/Non-vegetarian)