The well documented British project of abolishing the slave trade has been addressed by a new perspective in the last few years, which deals with its legal vocabularies and structures, and their relative importance for then-pursued political projects. As an international endeavour undertaken by Britain, it is not surprising that narratives dealing with such an episode of history are centred on British actors and sources. Yet, appreciating both parts of a struggle is the only way to comprehend law as an argumentative practice, especially when dealing with an oceanic empire and the recently-independent Brazil, the greatest destination of slaves in the Americas. In this interaction, the multi-layered battles over establishing, interpreting or reformulating legal vocabularies towards an assumed humanitarian endeavour shed light on dynamics very familiar to current international law.
The seminar focused on a twenty year period of Brazilian-British relations on slave trade abolition (1831-1850) exploring then-contentious points about who was to rule on apprehended vessels accused of slave trading, what were their nationalities, and what was the limit to humanitarian interpretative innovation. It ultimately showed the potential of approaching the slave trade abolition as a series of struggles and conscious usages of international law techniques. In doing so, this reflection intended to contribute both to the anti-slavery historiography and to debates about the place peripheries should have in international law histories.
Adriane Sanctis is a PhD Candidate in Legal Theory and MSc in International Law at the University of São Paulo (Brazil). In 2016 Adriane was a Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellow, visiting PhD researcher at Erik Castrén Institute of University of Helsinki and is a Kathleen Fitzpatrick Doctoral Visiting Fellow with the Laureate Program of International Law at Melbourne Law School in 2017.