Slavery and Empire in Central Asia

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Slavery and Empire in Central Asia

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Title: Slavery and Empire in Central Asia
Author: Eden, Jeffrey Eric
Citation: Eden, Jeffrey Eric. 2016. Slavery and Empire in Central Asia. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: This dissertation is the first major study of a slave trade that captured up to one million slaves along the Russian and Iranian frontiers over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries alone. Slaves served as farm-workers, herdsmen, craftsmen, soldiers, concubines, and even, in rare cases, as high-ranking officials in the region between the Caspian Sea and westernmost China. Most of these slaves were Shīʿites who were captured by Sunni Turkmens and sold in Central Asian cities and towns. Despite the Central Asian slave trade’s impressive dimensions, and the prominent role of slaves in the region’s history, the topic remains largely unstudied by historians of the region and of the broader Islamic world. Drawing on unpublished autobiographical sources and eyewitness accounts, I argue that slaves’ resistance and resourcefulness helped to define the contours of the slave labor system and played a key, unacknowledged role in their emancipation.

While previous studies of slavery in the Muslim world have emphasized the role of colonial governments in fostering abolition, I argue that slaves in Central Asia, by fomenting the largest slave uprising in the region’s history, triggered the abolition of slavery in the region as a whole.
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