Verge: Studies in Global Asias Issue 12.1: Trade in Humans

Proposals due March 15, 2024

Edited by Kristin Roebuck, Johanna Ransmeier, and Jessamyn Abel

Trade in humans is a vast and age-old engine of migration between regions in the Asia-Pacific and, since the sixteenth century, from Asia to the Americas, Africa, and Europe. This special issue of Verge seeks to illuminate both the ubiquity of the trade in Asian people and its particularities across time and space. Indispensable to both Asian polities and Western empires, to nation-building in the Americas and to the development of global capitalism, Asians as agents and objects of trade in humans also formed the core of Asian diasporas and hybridized cultures worldwide. Such circulation of Asian persons and labor profoundly influenced the formation of our modern world.

In documenting the widespread trade in Asian people, scholars have been divided on whether to call it a slave trade, with some identifying cases that clearly fit the term, while others eschew it in favor of a range of alternatives. Asian languages offer many relevant terms – such as人身売買 [Japanese for “buying and selling human bodies”] or sŏnsang nobi 選上奴婢 [Korean for “slaves selected and sent up to the capital”] – for practices that may not map neatly onto Western legal and cultural categories.

We use the term “trade in humans” in hope that this issue will engage with a broad scope of historical and contemporary forms of commodification, sale, alienation, and forced migration of Asian people. Rather than presume the forms and limits of exploitation, we seek to open up a conversation across fields and terminological silos. Topics explored may potentially range from slave trading to adoption, child marriage, resettlement, trafficking, indentured labor, “coolietude,” and military conscription.

This special issue will attend to problems of translation and the texture of human experience undergirding linguistic, legal, political, and cultural attempts to represent or obfuscate the transregional trade in humans. We seek contributions from a wide variety of fields: Asian studies and Asian American studies, history, legal studies, sociology, anthropology, and diaspora studies, among others. We welcome contributions that explore the influence of these diverse trades across all Asian regions, the Americas, and beyond, as well as local or international legacies.

Learn more about this opportunity here.