Caius PhD student Jake Richards has been awarded the prestigious DC Watt Prize 2017 for his research on the legal history of ‘liberated Africans’ in the south Atlantic.
The prize is awarded by the Transatlantic Studies Association for the best paper presented at its annual conference by an early career scholar (including graduate students and those in established posts). Previous recipients include Dr Bronwen Everill, now Director of Studies in History at Caius.
Jake is interested in how ‘liberated Africans’ contributed to, and were shaped by, the transition from slavery to freedom in Cape Town (South Africa), Freetown (Sierra Leone), Rio de Janeiro and Salvador (Brazil). ‘Liberated Africans’ were a new category of freed slave that resulted from Britain's abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in 1807, and the subsequent international treaties that stipulated the suppression of various nations' and empires' slave trades. Britain's Navy patrolled the Atlantic to intercept slave ships, which mixed-commission and vice-admiralty courts in port cities then condemned. Local authorities registered the rescued slaves and usually apprenticed them, and, in the eyes of the law and the treaties, this entire process transformed the slaves into liberated Africans.
Jake says: “My research investigates the legal and social challenges that these former slaves faced. How much did their legal status and social conditions change as a result of becoming liberated Africans? What claims could they make on or against the state? How were their lives similar to or different from other workers, including slaves, freedpeople and indentured labourers in their places of settlement? By answering these questions, I seek to write a history of the Atlantic world in a century when forced migration, abolition, and British imperial hegemony converged.”
Jake received a Fulbright scholarship to spend the 2016-17 academic year as a visiting Fellow in the Department of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University. He delivered his paper at the TSA conference at University College Cork earlier this year.
Image: Plymouth and West Devon Record Office