In his Pembroke Center lecture “Value of Life: Insurance, Slavery, Incarceration,” Michael Ralph, Associate Professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, discusses how his research on insurance reveals that people who were enslaved could inhabit social standing approximating that of dehumanized free workers, while free people could be trapped in a predicament approximating slavery. Although slaves were legally categorized as property, many enslaved people developed expertise—as artisans, bureaucrats, domestic managers, or in enterprises like coal mining or railroad construction, among others—that led slave owners, particularly those who rented out slaves for additional revenue, to insure their lives while still denying slaves the rights and entitlements of other citizens. The expertise that made the enslaved workers so valuable undermined the legal arguments used to justify slavery. In a connected project, Ralph also looks at “free” citizens who became part of the first convict lease system in Kentucky prior to the passage of the 13th Amendment. Those convicts, though not legally classified as slaves, farmed hemp in conditions similar to enslavement.
Tuesday, November 10, 2020
1 p.m. EST
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