Advice about H-Slavery's Future

David Prior's picture

Dear H-Slavery Subscribers, 

At its best, an H-Net group like H-Slavery draws on a broad community of scholarly interest. Over the last few years I've been helping to manage H-Slavery and I have been impressed both by how much our crew has been able to do but also how much is going on that we don't cover. The digital landscape for slavery studies is at once open but crowded and dynamic yet scattered. What do you think H-Slavery should do as the field of slavery studies continues to evolve? What projects would be most helpful? Where does the future lie? What can we do to benefit the field? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts on these and related matters. H-Slavery hosts many different kinds of content--CFPs, book reviews, twitter posts, queries, commissioned content. But among the most important of these over our history has been free flowing conversation... framed by academic best practices, to be sure, but also often less formal than published scholarship. I'd love to hear your thoughts about where things are headed and what we can do, whether they verge on a detailed proposal or are an off-the-cuff suggestion. We exist to serve the common interest of our field of study, but what is that common interest?  



David Prior
Editor, H-Slavery
Assistant Professor of History
University of New Mexico


Dear All, 

I received a few comments by email, but wanted to emphasize that any subscriber should feel free to share their thoughts here by replying to this post. It is of course by no means a problem if people feel H-Slavery is running fine as is, but I'd love to hear any ideas people had. 

Kind Regards, 


I love H-Slavery. However, my research is about slavery in medieval Europe. Might it be an idea to have a separate, but cross-linked forum about non-American slavery?

Dear Mary, 

Thank you for this excellent question and your kind words.  Let me offer two suggestions, both of which I hope convey that I would love to see more content and discussion about your subject, either through H-Slavery or H-Net in general.  

One option is that we develop a thread of content and discussion on this subject within H-Slavery.  The labor-intensive part would be lining up the contributions, whether book reviews, blog posts, topical guides, syllabi, or something else (or some combination of these).  From there, all we have to do is apply a common keyword to the content and we can keep it all on a common webpage that is accessible through a link on our main page. 

Another option would be for a group of scholars to apply to H-Net to develop a separate group specifically on the topic you mention, with a plan for developing content and a set of committed volunteer staff members.  H-Net would then review the application and, typically after some dialogue with the proposers, send a revised proposal to H-Net's Council for a vote of approval.  If approved, there would then be a group focused on Medieval Slavery. 

Which approach is best really depends on a handful of technical details and how many scholars have a long term commitment to doing the work, which of course depends on all sorts of factors. The first approach has the advantage of guaranteeing that content on medieval slavery also goes before the eyes of scholars studying modern and ancient slavery,which I think would be beneficial for all. But I think either option would be great.  The first can also be scaled down to something very modest -- say, a single blog post about what's going on currently in the literature on medieval slavery or a slightly more ambitious topical guide that goes through a crowd-sourced peer review process through our discussion feed. All of this is to say we definitely have options on this front, and if you know of anyone who'd like to say something about this subject we can move forward at their convenience. Please don't feel any pressure if no one comes to mind, I just want to be clear that I welcome any proposal or suggestion.  When such proposals are best kept off-list, you can always email me at

In the long term, it might be interesting if H-Slavery had the ability to develop nested communities with their own emailing lists lodged within our masterlist of subscribers, but I'm not sure how hard it would be for H-Net to pull that off on the technical side of things. 

Thanks again for your great question! 



My field is African slavery, though for years, I have been interested in comparative slavery. I am interested in American slavery, but I want to see it in context, as do a significant number of students of American slavery. I do not want a separate list. I can zap anything that does not interest me, but in fact, a lot does. I read almost everything on h-/slavery. What I would like to see is more on other slave systems and on the way they evolve. Let me cite two problems that intrigue me, though they go beyond my actual research. First, I long used Finley's distinction between slave societies and societies with slavery, but early began to differentiate between classical societies and those had a slave majority or close to it. This put societies in the Americas and and Africa in the same category. The second, is how slavery begins and evolves. I have hypothesized that early slavery often involved the problem of creation of authority. Slaves were part of nascent elites, and as states grew and differentiation developed, a significant percentage of slaves were part of elites, as it were, the king's men and the king's women. It would be interesting to develop threads within H-Slavery on these and other comparative problems.

Dear Martin, 

Thank you also for that excellent comment, I'm glad you've found H-Slavery's (albeit American/U.S.-centric) content helpful.  This is another case where I would love to see more discussion and content, and would love to see it develop through H-Slavery.  Let me mention two ideas that might be of interest and that any subscriber should feel welcome to comment on. 

The first idea is that Dr. Klein and/or a colleague of his work with us to develop some posts, topical gudies, or related material on the topics of slavery in Africa and comparative slavery. Please don't feel any pressure to take up this work if it doesn't fit with your schedule, but also note H-Slavery would be happy to collaborate and give due credit to all participants in any such initiative. 

A second idea, which might be appealing to some, would be for H-Slavery to start a series of blog posts called something like, "I Have A Theory" through which scholars can introduce an argument, such as the one Dr. Klein points to about slavery and the establishment of authority, for comments from our subscribers.  Individual posts might weigh in at around 700 words. It would serve as a way to air ideas that scholars are in the midst of thinking through, and maybe the series would be particularly helpful to anthropologists, historical sociologists, and other scholars interested in theories of social change? Here I'm just guessing. The only catch would be that I'd need somenoe to help manage that series of posts, by, for example, keeping track of which scholars want to contribute by when and giving each blog post a supportive read-through before publication. 

These ideas are in the spirit of moving the discussion forward, there are no doubt other ideas that might work better.  I'd welcome any input. 

Kind Regards,