Indentured Migrant Labor and Indentured Laborers in the Heart of Colonial Empires: State of the field and research perspectives, 17th-21st centuries

Indentured Migrant Labor and Indentured Laborers in the Heart of Colonial Empires: State of the field and research perspectives, 17th-21st centuries

Nathalie Collain (CNRS/CRPLC/CIRESC), Céline Flory (CNRS/Mondes Américains/CERMA/CIRESC), Sophie Fontan (Musée d’Aquitaine), François Hubert (Musée d’Aquitaine), Katia Kukawka (Musée d’Aquitaine)
From - Until
11.05.2015 - 12.05.2015
Flory, Céline

This international conference will be held May 11-12, 2015, as part of the 5th Rencontres Atlantiques (Atlantic conference series) organized by the Musée d’Aquitaine in Bordeaux and the International center for Research on Slavery (CIRESC).

As bonded labor, slavery and the slave trade were being debated, condemned and gradually forbidden by colonial and imperial powers, projects advocating the use of indentured migrant labor emerged. This was meant to take in the colonies free foreign labor who, before leaving their country of origin, had signed a contract which would legally oblige them to work for an employer for a fixed number of years. Though strongly inspired by the indenture system put in place in America in the seventeenth century, these projects must be distinguished from the latter system, notably because they would concern almost exclusively non-European populations. The use of this new type of labor –indentured non-European migrants –kept on growing throughout the nineteenth century and lasted until the aftermath of the First World War.

Thus, for more than a century, thousands of workers, men, women and children, left the Asian and African continents as indentured labor for either the American colonies or the former colonies located in the Indian Ocean, or for the territories recently conquered by imperial powers in Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

The departure and the arrival of thousands of indentured laborers had a huge impact on the economies of the colonial societies and their social and racial organizations, as well as on the cultures and lives of indigenous peoples, and those of the laborers themselves. These impacts were all the more significant as for many of the latter, temporary migration became permanent. And indeed, these indentured laborers permanently altered life and traditions in the colonies they integrated. The legacy of this peculiar type of migration is still very much present in today’s post-colonial societies.

Compared to the abundant historiography devoted to slavery, the slave trade and the migratory movements of European workers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and despite its being essential to understand colonialism and imperialism, the indenture system has only been marginally studied. However, in recent decades many researchers have studied these migrations and this system of labor. However, most of the research in this field is generally centered on the experience of a specific group of migrants, defined by continental origin, place of departure or final destination. For instance, because of their longevity and their numerical strength, the indenture system put in place in the Indian Ocean and the indentured Indian population received great attention, especially within the British Empire.

This international conference intends to contribute to a reconsideration of the historiography of the indenture system, the latter having been too often fragmented by Empire, colony, or group of indentured laborers. We thus wish to bring together specialists working on different regions, empires or colonies, on different periods and issues, so as to encourage comparative, cross and comprehensive studies on the many questions raised by the indenture system.

The committee especially encourages the submission of proposals with a comparative approach, or articulating different political and/or geographical scales, or placing indentured laborers or their descendants at the center of the research.

Suggested topics for paper proposals: the genealogy of indentured migrant labor, the various rationales explaining the use of such labor; recruitment conditions; links or interconnections between indentured migration and other types of migration, the construction of the legal tools to manage and control these foreign workers but also their descendants, the demographic, economic, social, cultural and political impacts of these migrations and this form of work on the colonial societies and their populations, the social and racial reorganizations that may have resulted from these migrations; the migrants' motivations when indenturing themselves, reactions and/or strategies of resistance in the colonies; indentured laborers’ strategies for integration, the laborers’ circulations in the various colonies and/or empires; the formation of diasporas; the contemporary legacies, the ways in which the indentured system has been remembered and commemorated, and the identity claims of people defining themselves as descendants of indentured migrants.

Submission guidelines
Please send an abstract (300 to 500 words) in English or French, and a one-page CV to:
No later than December 14, 2014

Scientific Committee
Antonio de Almeida Mendes (Université de Nantes/CRHIA/CIRESC)
Laurence Brown (Université de Manchester)
Virginie Chaillou (Université de Nantes/CRHIA)
Céline Flory (CNRS/Mondes Américains/CERMA/CIRESC)
François Hubert (Musée d’Aquitaine)
Katia Kukawka (Musée d’Aquitaine)
Jean Moomou (Université des Antilles/AIHP GEODE)
Alessandro Stanziani (CNRS/EHESS/CRH)
Ibrahima Thioub (Université Cheik Anta Diop/CARTE)


Contact (announcement)

Céline Flory
190-198, avenue de France
75013 Paris
Visit the website at

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