Trafficked children

Painting of a woman next to a Black boy
29 Mar 2017
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Trafficked children in the holy Roman Empire

Forgotten victims of the transatlantic slave trade

"The painting of the Abbess Johanna Charlotte of Brandenburg-Schwedt (1682–1750) shown here is particularly striking for the tension between the intimacy it portrays between mistress and child and the cruel circumstances that enabled such a painting in the first place."
Professor Rebekka von Mallinckrodt, University of Bremen

Increasing numbers of enslaved African children were trafficked into and around Europe in the context of the transatlantic slave trade during the 18th century, and again – in spite of and in some respects because of the movements for abolition - in the 19th century. But trafficked children in the Holy Roman Empire (as Germany was called until 1806) are in the shadows of historical research in two respects. First, the focus on the physical labour of the enslaved by many historians of slavery makes the role of those who were too young to labour appear insignificant. And on the other hand, historians of Germany are still debating whether slavery existed in the Holy Roman Empire at all.

It is true that the very few individual territories in the Holy Roman Empire that participated directly in the transatlantic slave trade, deploying their own trading companies, only did so for a brief period of time. Nevertheless, German merchants, missionaries, sailors and soldiers were involved in human trafficking through the trading companies and colonies of other European powers and also brought people to Europe themselves.

In this talk Professor Rebekka von Mallinckrodt, University of Bremen, sheds light on the role such ‘human souvenirs’ played in German society in the 18th century. She will also discuss the motives for and dimensions of the abduction of children in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation on the part of intermediaries and owners, and explore the consequences for the children and adolescents themselves.

Co-sponsored by the German Historical Institute London and the University of Liverpool Centre for the Study of International Slavery, this talk is part of an ongoing ERC research project on trafficked people in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, which is being carried out at the University of Bremen from 2015 to 2020.