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Book description

Clare Anderson provides a radical new reading of histories of empire and nation, showing that the history of punishment is not connected solely to the emergence of prisons and penitentiaries, but to histories of governance, occupation, and global connections across the world. Exploring punitive mobility to islands, colonies, and remote inland and border regions over a period of five centuries, she proposes a close and enduring connection between punishment, governance, repression, and nation and empire building, and reveals how states, imperial powers, and trading companies used convicts to satisfy various geo-political and social ambitions. Punitive mobility became intertwined with other forms of labour bondage, including enslavement, with convicts a key source of unfree labour that could be used to occupy territories. Far from passive subjects, however, convicts manifested their agency in various forms, including the extension of political ideology and cultural transfer, and vital contributions to contemporary knowledge production.


'This book is a truly global history of convicts that foregrounds the subaltern subjects who made the modern world. From contributing to scientific knowledge clearing land, building infrastructure, and expanding the territorial ambitions of faraway empires, this book shows how unfree labourers became a prominent feature of a modern global regime after the abolition of slavery. Rigorously researched and intellectually capacious, the book is a must-read for global historians.'

Durba Ghosh - author of Gentlemanly Terrorists: Political Violence and the Colonial State in India, 1919–1947

'This astonishing book defines the term magnum opus. With this superb global history from below, based on over twenty-five years of research, Clare Anderson has changed our understanding of world history. From the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, convict transportation and labour sustained empires and nations, economies and knowledge systems.'

Angela Woollacott - author of Settler Society in the Australian Colonies: Self-Government and Imperial Culture

‘This is an expansive yet fine-grained exploration of the national, regional and global history of punitive mobility. Weaving together a complex array of cases and conditions, Anderson engages the reader in an analysis of a system that not only affected the lives and fates of millions of people, but has shaped ways of thinking about and organising the world that endure into the present.’

Briony Neilson Source: Australian Book Review

‘An impressively informative work of original and meticulously presented scholarship, Convicts: A Global History is a seminal work that is an exceptional and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Criminology and Penology History collections.’

James A. Cox Source: Midwest Book Review

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