Humans as Gifts: Historical and Anthropological Approaches

Vitali Bartash Discussion
Call for Papers
July 15, 2023
Subject Fields: 
African History / Studies, American History / Studies, Anthropology, Asian History / Studies, Medieval and Byzantine History / Studies

Call for papers

Humans as Gifts:
Historical and Anthropological Approaches

International conference at the University of Bonn, May 2024

Why would someone give a human being as a gift? Who are the giver and the taker? How does the gift-giving affect the life and status of the gifted human? A two-day conference “Humans as Gifts” at the University of Bonn in May 2024 will bring historians and anthropologists together to answer these questions.

On the one hand, historical studies abound in cases where someone gives humans to someone else as a gift: A father gives his daughter a slave as a marriage present; a king sends slaves to his foreign peers as a diplomatic gift; a warlord distributes war captives among his military; someone donates his dependant to a god or a temple, etc. On the other hand, anthropologists have broken many spears at cracking the nature of the gift without ever focusing on humans as the object of gift-giving.

The organiser of the conference “Humans as Gifts: Historical and Anthropological Approaches” invites paper proposals that address the questions:
1. Who are the giver and the recipient of humans as gifts? 
2. What is their motivation to give and take? What is the context: a transfer or distribution of wealth, diplomacy, exposure of unwanted dependents, religious practices, etc.?
3. How does gift-giving transform the life of gifted individuals? What was their status before and after the giving/donation: a slave, a free or something in between

Case studies from all regions—Eurasia, Africa, the Americas and Australia and Oceania—and periods are welcome. Our ultimate aim is to clarify whether the giving of humans to other humans and deities “for free” was a universal phenomenon or a characteristic of certain types of societies or periods.

The international conference will take place on 17–18 or 23–24 May 2024 at the Bonn Centre for Dependency & Slavery Studies, University of Bonn, Germany. The Centre will cover your travel expenses, take care of your accommodation and provide catering and a conference dinner. A major scholarly press will publish the conference papers.

Interested scholars are invited to send a paper proposal (ca. 300 words) to the conference organiser Dr Vitali Bartash ( by July 15, 2023.


Contact Info: 

Dr. Vitali Bartash
Bonn Centre for Dependency & Slavery Studies
University of Bonn
​Heussallee 18–24
D-53113 Bonn, Germany

Contact Email: