Samuel H. Bass

HistoryIndiana University / Bloomington

Award Information

2017 IDRF Program

HistoryIndiana University / Bloomington

Subject of a Subject, Slave of a Slave: Labor, Taxes, and Society in Qing Mongolia

Slavery disappeared in Mongolia between 1750 and 1850. What slavery was, why it ended, and what came after are the central questions my research addresses. I answer these questions by analyzing Mongolian language court records, state-sponsored ethnographic reports, and material evidence of pastoral-nomadic slavery from Qing Mongolia. I argue that the end of slavery in Mongolia was an unintended outcome of the interplay of fiscal reforms to increase imperial tax revenue, slaveholder interests, and adaptive strategies on the part of the enslaved. Manumission was not a passage from slavery into freedom, but rather a site for the renegotiation of the value of people and their labor within a status hierarchy that no longer accommodated the status of "slave." My research engages in theories at the intersection of Qing history, Mongol studies, comparative slavery and is informed by anthropological notions of value. The conclusions have relevance outside of Mongolia and Qing history, in particular for our understanding of emancipatory processes in regions that were unaffected by British abolitionism. This project links the social history of slavery and nomadism for the first time. My research contributes to our understanding of the human experience by challenging the dichotomy of slavery and freedom and showing how people in a different cultural context met these challenges, and exploring the alternate narratives that emerged from their experiences.