Book Award and Author Reception

Date & Time: Tuesday, October 5, 2021, 4:30 p.m.  
Location: University Club, Traditions and Thoren Rooms

Join the Institute for Humanities Research in person or online for the annual Book Award and Author Reception.

This year's book award winner is Hannah Barker for “That Most Precious Merchandise” on the history of the slave trade in the Black Sea.

This event will include a presentation by Barker on “That Most Precious Merchandise: The Mediterranean Trade in Black Sea Slaves, 1260-1500,” followed by a Q&A and book signing.

Refreshments will be served during the reception for in-person registrants.

All nominated books will also be on display at the event.


4:30 PM – Reception (in-person only)

5:00 PM – Lecture and Q&A (online and in-person)

6:15 PM – Book signing (in-person only)

About the author

Hannah Barker is an assistant professor of history at ASU. Her research centers on connections between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea in the late medieval period, especially the slave trade which flourished during the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries. “That Most Precious Merchandise,” her first book, deals with the processes of shipping, marketing and purchasing slaves and the Genoese, Mamluk and Venetian merchants who conducted this trade.

About "That Most Precious Merchandise"

The history of the Black Sea as a source of Mediterranean slaves stretches from ancient Greek colonies to human trafficking networks in the present day. At its height during the 14th and early 15th centuries, the Black Sea slave trade was not the sole source of Mediterranean slaves; Genoese, Venetian and Egyptian merchants bought captives taken in conflicts throughout the region, from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans and the Aegean Sea. Yet the trade in Black Sea slaves provided merchants with profit and prestige; states with military recruits, tax revenue and diplomatic influence; and households with the service of women, men and children.

Even though Genoa, Venice and the Mamluk sultanate of Egypt and Greater Syria were the three most important strands in the web of the Black Sea slave trade, they have rarely been studied together. Examining Latin and Arabic sources in tandem, Hannah Barker shows that Christian and Muslim inhabitants of the Mediterranean shared a set of assumptions and practices that amounted to a common culture of slavery. Indeed, the Genoese, Venetian and Mamluk slave trades were thoroughly entangled, with wide-ranging effects. Genoese and Venetian disruption of the Mamluk trade led to reprisals against Italian merchants living in Mamluk cities, while their participation in the trade led to scathing criticism by supporters of the crusade movement who demanded commercial powers use their leverage to weaken the force of Islam.

Reading notarial registers, tax records, law, merchants' accounts, travelers' tales and letters, sermons, slave-buying manuals and literary works as well as treaties governing the slave trade and crusade propaganda, Barker gives a rich picture of the context in which merchants traded and enslaved people met their fate.