Humanities launches Rice Seminars Program with ‘human trafficking’ theme

Rice News staff



Slavery did not die in the 19th century. Now known as human trafficking, it has continued and even expanded, recent scholarship shows. In its inaugural year, the Rice Seminars Program will delve into the subject of slavery, past and present, with an ambitious schedule of lectures, interdisciplinary research and workshops — all culminating in an edited book to which all participants will contribute.

The Rice Seminars, an academic think tank initiated by Dean of Humanities Nicolas Shumway, is designed to promote humanistic research by bringing together a select group of six faculty fellows from outside of Rice, four Rice faculty members and two Rice graduate students to study a common theme from several disciplinary perspectives.

The 2012-13 theme, “Human Trafficking — Past and Present: Crossing Disciplines, Crossing Borders,” will seek to “historicize slavery and human trafficking to build bridges between what we know about slavery in the past and what we are learning about human trafficking today,” said Rice historians James Sidbury and Kerry Ward, whose proposal forms the basis for the first Rice Seminar.

“We believe that an engagement between historical understandings of slave systems and current analyses of modern human trafficking will generate new knowledge about the past and the present,” said Ward, associate professor of history. “The Rice Seminar’s multidisciplinary forum will create a unique network of scholars and activists to foster new research questions about human trafficking.”

The yearlong seminar program represents an effort to reach out beyond academia; it will invite the participation of legislators, prosecutors, nongovernmental organizations involved in protecting victims of trafficking and, if possible, victims themselves.

“Given the growing interest on campus, in Houston and throughout the world in the struggle against human trafficking, the Rice Seminar has the chance to create reciprocal ties between a vibrant body of scholarship in the humanities and a humanitarian crisis in the world today,” said Sidbury, the Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Professor of Humanities.

“Human Trafficking — Past and Present” is organized into four sections. The first will deal with what Sidbury and Ward call “the age of slavery” — from antiquity to 1815. The second will examine the global effort to emancipate slaves. The third will take up the emergence of a new trade in human beings that continues today, despite being outlawed in most countries. Finally, the seminar will turn to a local context, focusing on Houston as an important hub of human trafficking.

The segment on Houston is expected to play a key role in bringing together scholars from the humanities and the social sciences, as well as nonacademics in law enforcement, NGOs and others active in fighting human trafficking.

The Rice Seminar is funded by the Provost’s Office, the School of Humanities and the Humanities Research Center.

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