New Book by Michelle McKinley Explores Slavery and Fractional Freedoms

Jan 27, 2017

In the U.S., common understanding of slavery derives from nineteenth century rural, plantations. Expanding from this generalized scope of slavery, Professor Michelle McKinley explores slavery in colonial Peru in her book, "Fractional Freedoms: Slavery, Intimacy, and Legal Mobilization in Colonial Lima" (Cambridge University Press, September 2016).

The book discusses how thousands of slaves in Peru, particularly women, secured freedom and hampered generational transmission of enslavement to their children between 1593-1689. It is the result of ten years of extensive archival research and deep analysis of the intricate stories within the colonial legal system.

Coining the term "fractional freedoms," McKinley describes that, “there is neither total bondage nor absolute autonomy, especially not in an early modern world. All people can aspire to is fractional freedom --contingent liberty.” The concept of intertwined communities in the early modern world, she argues, created multigenerational dependencies and relationships which bind people together. There was a bond to their owners and their owners to them, and this community of overlapping identities helped to condition slaves' identities.

Recently, McKinley was recognized by the University of Oregon for exemplary work to further civil rights. As the director of the Center for the Study of Women in Society and Bernard B. Kliks Professor of Law at the university, she is an expert in immigration law, public policy, international refugee law, and slavery. She is the recipient of the Surrency Prize and research fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Philosophical Society, and the Newberry Library, in addition to a fellowship-in-residence at Princeton University’s Program in Law and Public Affairs.