Slavery: records in the IALS Archives

Written by Clare Cowling, IALS Archivist |
A black and white photograph of bare feet in chains standing on sand.

The IALS Archives holds a small amount of material relating to slavery in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  The focus is primarily, though not exclusively, on “white slavery” - the trafficking of women and children, usually for the purposes of enforced sex or unpaid labour.  

Almost all our records relating to slavery come from one collection, the International Law Association Archives 1866-2019.The International Law Association (ILA) was founded in Brussels in 1873 as an association 'to consist of Jurists, Economists, Legislators, Politicians and others taking an interest in the question of the reform and Codification of Public and Private International Law, the Settlement of Disputes by Arbitration, and the assimilation of the laws, practice and procedure of the Nations in reference to such laws' (afternoon sitting of the first conference of members, 19 November 1873: reference ILA 01/01). It was initially called the Association for the Reform and Codification of the Law of Nations, changing its title to the International Law Association in the early 20th century. The ILA has consultative status, as an international non-governmental organisation, with some of the United Nations specialised agencies. 

The ILA’s records include papers on slavery produced at annual conference (Ref: ILA/2), such as reports in 1879 and 1890 on the international slave trade (refs: ILA/2/8 and ILA/2/13) and international committees (ref: ILA/3), particularly the Extradition Committee (ref: ILA/3/2) and the Penal Law Committee (ref: ILA/3/3) discussing the white slave trade and the trafficking of women and children. The ILA archives also holds copies of pamphlets and publications on slavery (ref: ILA/6), such as The Australian Natives: Tragedy and Romance by Sir John Harris, published by the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society, 1937 (ref: ILA/6/27).

The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS): Institutional Archives, 1934-2021 contains one file relating to slavery, a Nuffield Fellowship proposal entitled The Impact of the constitutional Provisions on the Customary Disabilities of Women in Ghana; report on the Abolition of Ritual Slavery, Forced Labour and other related Practices by Anita M H Ababio (ref: IALS/26/3/8).

Further information

For full details of our holdings see the Archives guide: Slavery and the Law.

About the IALS Archives

The IALS Archives was established in the 1990s during the Records of Legal Education Project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust to investigate records of legal education. During the project IALS accepted a number of collections from individuals and organisations which otherwise had no institutional archives or were at risk of loss. Since the end of the project IALS has continued to accept deposits of archive material relating to legal education.

Logo from TNA for an accredited archive service

In 2022 the IALS Archives achieved accreditation from The National Archives.

Clare Cowling

Clare Cowling is the IALS Archivist and an experienced archivist and records manager who has worked in legal archives management for many years.