Reforming everywhere and all at once: transitioning to free labor across the British empire, 1837-1838

Boehme, Kate, Mitchell, Peter and Lester, Alan (2018) Reforming everywhere and all at once: transitioning to free labor across the British empire, 1837-1838. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 60 (3). pp. 688-718. ISSN 0010-4175

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In late 1837 and early 1838 the British imperial government was preparing for an empire-wide transition from bonded to nominally free labor. This article builds upon recent scholarship that promotes a holistic, global approach to this transition, by narrowing the temporal frame and expanding the spatial. We emphasise interconnectivity and simultaneity rather than chronological succession, and we analyse the governance, rather than the experience, of this transition. Our approach is founded upon analysis of correspondence passing from every British colonial site through the Colonial Office in 1837-8. We suggest that this hub of imperial government sought to reconcile the persistence of different conditions in each colony with the pursuit of three overarching policy objectives: redistributing labor globally; distinguishing between the moral debts owed to different kinds of bonded labor, and managing trade-offs between security, economy and morality. We conclude that the governance of the transition to free labor is best conceived as an assemblage of material and expressive elements of different spatial scales, whose interactions were complex and indeterminate. Through these specific governmental priorities and a particular communications infrastructure, these elements were brought into critical alignment at this moment to shape a significant transition in relations between people across the world.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: British Empire; Labor; Reform; Snapshots
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > Geography
Research Centres and Groups: Centre for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies
Subjects: D History General and Old World
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D204 Modern History, 1453- > D299 1789- > D351 19th century. 1801-1914/1920 > D385 1830-1870
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General) > G0001 Geography (General) > G0141 Historical geography
Depositing User: Alan Lester
Date Deposited: 07 Jun 2017 10:48
Last Modified: 10 Jul 2018 11:21

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Project NameSussex Project NumberFunderFunder Ref
Snapshots of Empire: managing a diverse empire all at onceG1680LEVERHULME TRUSTRPG-2015-155