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In order to deal properly with the subject of the conference “Transcultural Perspectives on Late Medieval and Early Modern Slavery in the Mediterranean” (September 12–15, 2012), the hosts Juliane Schiel (History Department of the University of Zurich/URPP Asia and Europe) and Stefan Hanß (Freie Universität Berlin) divided the conference into four sections that reflected the variety of perspectives. The first section treated “Discourses and Social Practices” of slavery in which, among other things, the debate emphasized discourses of legitimacy or questions of the way to emancipation. In the second section, “Economic and Military Entanglements” were discussed, focusing on aspects of slave trade and transfer. The following section covered questions of “Society, Family, and Gender” in terms of Mediterranean slavery. In this context, scholars focused on issues ranging from female delinquency to sexual services. In the fourth and last section, matters of “Cultural Interconnectivities” of Mediterranean slavery were discussed. Both demands of interlacing and comparisons with other geographical settings were presented. In the final discussion, Nicolas Vatin and Ludolf Kuchenbuch combined all results of the previous sections.
Vatin and Kuchenbuch mentioned the lack of consciousness in facing ‘slavery’ as just a linguistic category. Both contemporary witnesses and current historians defined the category of slavery in terms of a polysemous concept. In this context, Vatin and Kuchenbuch referred to a fluidity of servile statuses. For historical analysis, this treatment of the matter is a further step towards complexity. Furthermore, the commentators cautioned against generalizations of considerations because of problems caused by reasons mentioned earlier. However, in the macro level of history, case studies need a frame and a context in order to gain relevance.
To sum up the conference, the internationality and plurality of perspectives given by the speakers inspired researchers as well as numerous junior researchers in attendance. The stimulating debates raised the hope for further productive research of this barely explored aspect in the field of medieval history and of the early modern period.
(Asia & Europe Bulletin, 2/2013, p. 16)