Forced mobilities

Slave trade and indentured migration

Authored by: Michael Zeuske

The Routledge Handbook of Transregional Studies

Print publication date:  November  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138718364
eBook ISBN: 9780429438233
Adobe ISBN:


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The history of the slave trade has been described from different perspectives. Contemporary sources tended not to address the topic from the perspectives of mobility, migration, or diaspora. Well into the twentieth century, many were directly employing terms such as ‘negro trade’ (trata de negros), criminals, banishment or deportation, slave trafficking in areas of ‘non-civilization’, ‘coolie trade’, and even ‘house girls’. Only recently, historians have started to treat the transportation of enslaved and indentured labourers as transcontinental or global migration or mobility, and examine the transregional diasporas that have emerged from these mobilities. Apart from enslaved and indentured servants, other authors address the case of globally recruited servants (housekeeping personnel) and of victims of transcontinental banishment as part of state penal systems. I suggest that the history of transregional, as well as transcontinental and transoceanic, mass mobility should be read as a history of forced mobility, lasting up until 1830/40. Paradigmatic is the history of Atlantic slavery – which resulted in some 12 million Africans being abducted and taken across the Atlantic Ocean during 1500–1870. Until 1830, 6 to 8 million people had been displaced from Africa to the Americas, whereas only 2 to 3 million people had migrated voluntarily from Europe. But also prior to 1500, there had been large networks of forced mass mobility in world history, especially in terms of slaves and prisoners of war trafficking. Following the emergence of a new order of relations between world regions – from the twelfth century onwards – forced mobility occurred from the Mongols to the Mamelukes (1250–1350), from Transoxania (today covering much of modern-day Central Asia) to the Islamic Caliphate and Hindu India to the north, and through the Hindu Kush to Persia and Central Asia, as well as from the border expansion of Yuan China (1279–1368), specifically in the southward expansion phase, to around 1300 (conquest of Yunnan) and again in the seventeenth century.

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