COLONIAL LABOUR MIGRATION AND THE “TYRANNY OF THE PARTICULAR”
Richard B. Allen The last half century has witnessed a revolution in our understanding of free and forced labor migration in the European colonial world. Historians now know much more than they ever did about the slave, convict, indentured, and other migrant labour trades that are hallmarks of the colonial experience, especially between the late seventeenth and early twentieth centuries. A review of published scholarship on these systems reveals, however, a propensity for conceptually, chronologically, and geographically compartmentalized studies that focus on a limited number of research questions and fail to situate these studies in appropriately developed contexts. Recent scholarship on the increasing interconnectedness of the slave, convict, and indentured labour trades in the Indian Ocean during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries highlights the need for colonial migrant labour studies to transcend the prevailing historiographical “tyranny of the particular” by consciously seeking to explore hitherto ignored topics and issues, to engage in the comparative study of these migrant labour systems and the lives of the men, women, and children who participated in them, and to situate local and regional developments in well-developed regional and pan-regional contexts.
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