Benjamin N. Lawrance

About Benjamin N. Lawrance

I’m a legal historian and work in Africa and with West African migrants around the globe. My research explores mobility, labor, and exploitation through time and space, and I have written about historical and contemporary slavery, human trafficking, cuisine and globalization, human rights, refugee issues and asylum policies. I am the editor-in-chief of the African Studies Review, the principal journal of the African Studies Association (USA).

My first monograph -- Locality, Mobility and 'Nation' (Rochester 2007) -- examined the experiences of Ewe men and women under French mandate rule in Togo, and will shortly appear in French. My second monograph -- Amistad's Orphans: An Atlantic Story of Children, Slavery, and Smuggling (Yale 2014) -- examined West African child smuggling in the 19th century, reconstructing a familiar story -- the 1840-41 Amistad Supreme Court case -- through the lens of children’s experiences of enslavement. I’m currently working on a history of postcolonial African social and political persecution, drawing on the narratives of African asylum seekers in Europe and North America. And with Nate Carpenter, I’m publishing the first history of exile in Africa, forthcoming with Indiana University Press.

Among my other recent works are those examining forced marriage, asylum, refugee issues, expert testimony, historical and contemporary trafficking in women and children in Africa. My essays have appeared in the Radical History Review, The Journal of African History, Biography, Slavery & Abolition, African Economic History, Anthropological Quarterly, Cahiers d'Études Africaines, and the African Studies Review, among others. Along with Bill Moseley, I co-chaired the 59th Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association in Washington DC in December 2016, with the theme: "Imaging Africa at the Center: Bridging Scholarship, Policy, and Representation in African Studies."

I am often invited to consult on the contemporary political, social, and cultural climate in various countries West Africa. I have served as an expert witness for over three hundred and fifty petitions by West African migrants in the U.S., Canada, the U.K, the Netherlands, Israel, and many other countries, and my opinions have featured in appellate rulings in the U.S. and the U.K. I have has served as a consultant on asylum and refugee issues to the US Department of State, the National Security Agency, the Japanese UNHCR, the World Bank, the Austrian Red Cross, the Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada, and the US Department of Homeland Security.

I am also happy to engage with the press on matters related to Africa, particularly West Africa, trafficking, asylum, refugees, migration, public services, citizenship/nationality, and issues pertaining to children. Please contact the University of Arizona Press Office. Examples of my press engagements include:

· An interview with Antonio Mora, “Consider This,” Al-Jazeera America, May 20, 2014

· An interview with Eve Conant, for her story “Nigeria's Schoolgirl Kidnappings Cast Light on Child Trafficking,” National Geographic, May 15, 2014

· An interview with Robert Siegel, on “All Things Considered,” National Public Radio, May 9, 2014

· An interview with Brent Bambury, on "Day 6," Canadian Broadcasting Company, May 8, 2014

· And an interview by Rick Gladstone for his story “Real Threat in a Known Market for Children,” in the New York Times May 7, 2014

My research has been made possible with national and international awards from various agencies and institutions, including the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and fellowships at Stanford University, Yale University, Harvard University, the University of Notre Dame, the Rotary Foundation, and the inaugural University of California President's Fellowship in the Humanities.

Some of my publications include:


Citizenship in Question: Evidentiary Birthright and Statelessness. With Jacqueline Stevens (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017)

Marriage by Force? Contestation over Consent and Coercion in Africa. With Annie Bunting and Richard L. Roberts (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2016)

African Asylum at a Crossroads: Activism, Expert Testimony, and Refugee Rights. With Iris Berger, Tricia Redeker Hepner, Joanne Tague, and Meredith Terretta. (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2015)

Adjudicating Refugee and Asylum Status: The Role of Witness, Expertise, and Testimony. With Galya Ruffer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015) Paperback 2016

Amistad's Orphans: An Atlantic Story of Children, Slavery, and Smuggling. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014)

Trafficking in Slavery's Wake: Law and the Experiences of Women and Children in Africa. With Richard L. Roberts (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2012, "New African Histories" Series)

Local Foods Meet Global Foodways: Tasting History. With Carolyn de la Peña (New York: Routledge/Taylor Francis, 2012)

Locality, Mobility and 'Nation': Periurban Colonialism in Togo's Eweland, 1900-1960 (Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2007)

Intermediaries, Interpreters and Clerks: African Employees and the Making of Colonial Africa. With Emily L. Osborn and Richard L. Roberts (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006) [Reprinted in Paperback 2016]

Selected Essays:

“Boko Haram, Refugee Mimesis, and the Archive of Contemporary Gender-Based Violence,” Radical History Review Vol. 126 (2016)

“‘A full knowledge of the subject of slavery’: The Amistad, Expert Testimony, and the Origins of Atlantic Studies,” Slavery and Abolition Volume 35, Issue 4 (2014): 1-21

"'Your poor boy no father no mother': 'Orphans,' Alienation, and the Perils of Atlantic Child Slave Biography," Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly 36.4 (2013 Fall)

"From Child Labor 'Problem' to Human Trafficking 'Crisis': Child Advocacy and Anti-Trafficking Legislation in Ghana," International Labor and Working-Class History 78.1 (2010): 63-88

"Bankoe v. Dome: Traditions and Petitions in the Ho-Asogli Amalgamation, British Mandated Togoland, 1919-1939," Journal of African History 46 (2005): 243-67

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Contact Information

Benjamin N. Lawrance
Professor of History
Fax: 520-621-2422
Office: CHVZ 319C
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

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Department of History
Cesar E. Chavez
400N Main Office
1110 James E. Rogers Way
Tucson, AZ 85721
Tel: (520) 621-1586
Fax: (520) 621-2422