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 flagship journal of the African Studies Association (USA).

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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 (Yale 2014) — examined West African child smuggling in the 19th century, reconstructing a familiar story, namely 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. I am the series editor for the Bloomsbury Academic Press series, A Cultural History of Slavery and Human Trafficking.

Among my other recent works are those examining exile, 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. As of 2017, I have served as an expert witness for over four hundred 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 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. This has also become an important site of research for me and part of my current ACLS-funded book project.

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:

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 Kroc Institute for Peace Studies of the University of Notre Dame, the Rotary Foundation, and an inaugural University of California President's Fellowship in the Humanities.

Some of my publications include:


Africans in Exile: Mobility, Law & Identity. With Nathan R. Carpenter (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018)

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:

"Viral video 'blood chocolate' activism, millennial anti-trafficking, and the neoliberal resurgence of shaming," with Richard L. Roberts, Slavery & Abolition Vol.39, Issue 3 (2018)

"Ebola’s Would-be Refugees: Performing Fear and Navigating Asylum During a Public Health Emergency," Medical Anthropology 36.8 (2018)

Autocracy, Migration, and The Gambia’s ‘Unprecedented’ 2016 Election,” with Niklas Hultin, Baba Jallow, and Assan Sarr, African Affairs Vol. 116, Issue 463 (2017): 321-40

Unfreedom Papers: Trafficking, Refugee Protection, and Expertise After Neo-Abolitionism,” Journal of Global Slavery, Vol. 2, Issue 3 (2017): 1-25

Boko Haram, Refugee Mimesis, and the Archive of Contemporary Gender-Based Violence,” Radical History Review Vol. 126 (2016): 159-170

‘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): 672-703

"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," The Journal of African History 46 (2005): 243-67

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Contact Information

Benjamin N. Lawrance
Professor of African History
Telephone: 520-626-3070
Fax: 520-621-2422
Office: CHVZ 319C
Office Hours: Tu/Th 10:15-10:45, Tu 12:45-3:00 or by appointment (Fall 2018)


Ph.D. Stanford University
M.A. Stanford University
M.A. University College London
B.A. (Hons.) University College London

Courses Taught

HISTORY/AFRICANA STUDIES 308: The African Slave Trades
HISTORY 328: Culture, Cuisine, and Power
HISTORY/AFRICANA STUDIES 395A: Topics in African History
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Contact Us

Department of History
Cesar E. Chavez Bldg.
Main Office, Room 415 
1110 James E. Rogers Way
Tucson, AZ 85721

Tel: (520) 621-1586
Fax: (520) 621-2422