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Race in the Archives (Talk by Hannah Barker)

January 13, 2021 - 12:00pm to 1:15pm
Hannah Barker

Racial Categorization and Slave Status in Fifteenth-Century Genoa

Thousands of legal documents involving slaves dating from the twelfth through fifteenth centuries have been preserved in the notarial collection of the state archive in Genoa. This collection is therefore a valuable resource for studying the concept of enslaveability as it was understood by notaries, those responsible for recording the legal acts that established and modified the status of enslaved people. In this talk, I will discuss how notaries used terms like Saracen or Circassian to categorize enslaved people, why they considered such categories relevant to slave status, and why it makes sense to talk about these categories in terms of race.


Hannah Barker is an assistant professor of medieval history at Arizona State University. She studies connections between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean during the late medieval period, especially the trade in slaves to Genoa, Venice, and the Mamluks. Her first book, That Most Precious Merchandise: The Mediterranean Trade in Black Sea Slaves, 1260-1500, was published in 2019 and received the Paul E. Lovejoy prize from the Journal of Global Slavery.

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