4/22 – NYU Global Asia Colloquium Book Discussion: “Sojourners, Sultans and ‘Slaves’: America and the Indian Ocean in the Age of Abolition and Empire”

Global Asia Colloquium


12:00 PM (EST), April 22, 2022.

Awam Amkpa and Gunja Sengupta, Sojourners, Sultans and ‘Slaves’: America and the Indian Ocean in the Age of Abolition and Empire (University of California Press, forthcoming, fall 2022).

In the 19th century, capitalism and empire networked the North Atlantic and Indian Ocean Worlds into a global public sphere of contest over the meanings of slavery and freedom. This book mines multinational archives to illuminate the Atlantic reverberations of U.S. mercantile projects, “free labor” experiments, and slaveholding in western Indian Ocean societies. It profiles transnational human rights campaigns, shows how discourses of poverty, kinship, and care could be adapted to defend servitude in different parts of the world, and reveals the tenuous boundaries that such discourses shared with Whiggish contractual notions of freedom. An intercontinental cast of empire-builders and émigrés, slavers and reformers, a “cotton queen” and courtesans, and fugitive slaves and concubines offers windows to competing knowledge productions about “slavery in the East,” and prompts reflections on the comparative workings of subaltern agency.

This “Global Asia” session will focus specifically on what Afro-Asian encounters with imperial abolition can tell us about connections between slavery and diaspora. The scope of the book does not extend to extrapolating conclusions about “African” diasporic consciousness in present day South Asia and the Middle East from evidence of these 19thcentury interactions. Nevertheless, it does become possible to reflect on the ways in which Afro-Asian peoples on the margins defined or sought community beyond the boundaries of nations and imperial states on terms that invite comparison with contemporaneous Afro-Atlantic articulations of diaspora.

Discussants: Sarah K. Khan and Ahmad Sikainga.

Awam Amkpa is Professor of Drama at New York University and Dean of Arts and Humanities at NYU, Abu Dhabi. He is the author of Theatre and Postcolonial Desires, as well as articles on African diasporas, modernisms in theater, and films of the Black Atlantic. He has curated numerous of photographic exhibitions and film festivals around the world, most recently, “ReSignifications” at Cooper Gallery, Harvard University. He is currently at work on a docufiction on Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka’s prison memoirs.

Gunja SenGupta is Professor of History at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. She has authored the books For God and Mammon: Evangelicals and Entrepreneurs, Masters and Slaves in Territorial Kansas, and From Slavery to Poverty: The Racial Origins of Welfare in New York; and articles in anthologies as well as journals like the American Historical Review, Journal of Negro (now African American) History, Civil War History, and Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art among many others.

Sarah K. Khan is an Artist in Residence at Princeton University, part of Art Hx to address how medicine, art and race informed each other in the British Empire. A two-time Fulbright scholar, Khan employs photography, films, video art, printmaking, maps and writing to simultaneously defy erasure and build archives. Her numerous awards include the Project for Empty Space Feminist Residency, Indigo Arts Alliance, the Boren Chertkov Residency for Labor and Justice at Blue Mountain Center, and the upcoming Baldwin for the Arts and Kohler Arts/Industry Residencies.

Ahmad Sikainga is a Professor of African History at the Ohio State University. His academic interests embrace the study of Africa, the African Diaspora, and the Middle East with a focus on slavery, labor, urban history, and popular culture. The geographical focus of his research is the Sudan, the Nile Valley, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf. His publications include: Sudan Defense Force: Origin and Role, 1925-1955 (1983), Western Bahr al-Ghazal under British Rule, 1898-1956 (1991), Slaves into Workers: Emancipation and Labor in Colonial Sudan (1996), City of Steel and Fire: A Social History of Atbara, Sudan’s Railway Town, 1906-1984 (2002). He co-edited Africa and World War II (Cambridge, 2015), Post-conflict Reconstruction in Africa (2006), and Civil War in the Sudan, 1983-1989 (1993).


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