Humanitarian Governance and the British Antislavery World System

Maeve Ryan

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How the suppression of the slave trade and the “disposal” of liberated Africans shaped the emergence of modern humanitarianism

Between 1808 and 1867, the British navy seized nearly two thousand slave ships, “re-capturing” almost two hundred thousand enslaved people, who were then placed as liberated Africans across an “archipelago” of resettlement sites, including Sierra Leone, Cape Colony, the West Indies, Brazil, Cuba, and beyond. Maeve Ryan explores the set of imperial experiments and discourses that took shape as a result of this unintended consequence of abolition policy, and their importance to the evolution of a British antislavery “world system.” This is a study of how the British imperial state and its treaty partners sought to administer and control the labor of liberated Africans, and of the dual discourses of compassion and control that evolved around a people expected to repay the debt of their salvation. Ryan demonstrates the role liberated Africans played in the evolution of humanitarian governance, and the impact of interventionist experiments on the lives of these people.

Maeve Ryan is a senior lecturer in history and grand strategy in the Department of War Studies and co-director of the Centre for Grand Strategy at King’s College London.

“This brilliantly conceptualised book reveals the carceral origins of imperial humanitarianism. Its meticulous interpretation of the processing, exploitation, and experience of ‘Liberated Africans’ in sites across the British Empire underpins a new understanding of the coloniality of refuge and asylum today.”—Clare Anderson, University of Leicester

“This stunning book constitutes a ground-breaking addition to the literature on slavery and abolition.”—Manuel Barcia, author of The Yellow Demon of Fever
ISBN: 9780300251395
Publication Date: April 5, 2022
328 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4