Skip to main content
School of Geography

Black History Month: A History of Black Freedom with Professor Miles Ogborn

10 October 2019

Time: 1:00 - 2:00pm
Speaker: Prof. Miles Ogborn
Venue: Peoples Palace: LG01

As part of Queen Mary's programme of events for Black History MonthProf. Miles Ogborn, Professor of Geography, presents a talk on his research that underpins his new book The Freedom of Speech: Talk and Slavery in the Anglo-Caribbean World

For more information on Queen Mary's Black History Month events, head here.

About the book

Miles Ogborn The Freedom of Speech: Talk and Slavery in the Anglo-Caribbean World (The University of Chicago Press, 2019)

The institution of slavery has always depended on enforcing the boundaries between slaveholders and the enslaved. As historical geographer Miles Ogborn reveals in The Freedom of Speech, across the Anglo-Caribbean world the fundamental distinction between freedom and bondage relied upon the violent policing of the spoken word. Offering a compelling new lens on transatlantic slavery, this book gathers rich historical data from Barbados, Jamaica, and Britain to delve into the complex relationships between voice, slavery, and empire. From the most quotidian encounters to formal rules of what counted as evidence in court, the battleground of slavery lay in who could speak and under what conditions. But, as Ogborn shows through keen attention to both the traces of talk and the silences in the archives, if enslavement as a legal status could be made by words, it could be unmade by them as well. A deft interrogation of the duality of domination, The Freedom of Speech offers a rich interpretation of oral cultures that both supported and constantly threatened to undermine the slave system.


“In the beginning was the word, which made all things—or at least, in Ogborn’s telling, all the most important relations of power that define modern politics. His inspired examination of the intimacies of speech, liberty, and bondage in the British Caribbean announces a vital new departure for the study of slavery, its political geography, and its legacies. This book will change the way we hear the insistent chorus of voices that echo across generations of freedom struggle.” Vincent Brown, Harvard University.


“How were forms of freedom and bondage made through speech? Who could speak—when, where, and how? Ogborn’s powerful and original exploration considers the many kinds of talk—whether political, legal, botanical, or spiritual—of the colonizers, the abolitionists, and the enslaved in the Anglo-Caribbean. Speech, he convincingly demonstrates, needs attention: it is one of the dialogic practices at the heart of the making, remaking, and undoing of race and slavery.” Catherine Hall, University College London.


“Ogborn's The Freedom of Speech brilliantly explores the cultures of orality in the Caribbean. It provides a highly original and fascinating perspective on the world of the enslaved and of the slaveholders as well as on the study of slavery more generally.” Gad Heuman, University of Warwick

Back to top