Replacement Chapter for Collection in contract: Imperial Debt: Colonial Theft, Postcolonial Reparations

deadline for submissions: 
July 20, 2024
full name / name of organization: 
Maureen E. Ruprecht Fadem
contact email: 

Dear Colleagues:

My forthcoming collection, Imperial Debt: Colonial Theft, Postcolonial Reparations, is in contract and due out late 2024 / early 2025. 

Please review the original CFP for the book, copied below, and let me know if you have work that would be appropriate for it and fits within the rubric of the book (see below).

The full chapter is needed by July 20 2024. I will respond right away to any and all inquiries. Please email me to let me know of your interest and that you plan to submit a chapter: maureen.fadem@gmail.com

Thank you considering this important project--my very best,

~Maureen Ellen Ruprecht, CUNY

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This Call for Papers is for a new collection that is in contract: Imperial Debt: Colonial Theft, Postcolonial Reparations. This would be the first collection of its kind, forwarding a case for reparations—restorative, reparative justice—for modern era imperialism. This is my second book on reparations, the first a monograph on Morrison’s Beloved. The question now, for this collection, is how develop such plans in the context of imperialist histories across modernity? This book will offer chapters that consider that matter from various disciplinary, national, theoretical, historical, or material points of view, some comparative, all likely interdisciplinary. That is, it will take up the matter of restorative justice “after empire” in consideration of the longue durée and in both national and international contexts. What economic equilibrations should be being called for today? How do we consider, assess, and theorize modern imperialism, including settler and administrative forms and including slavery—a structure of and in empire—through the triptych of theft, debt, and repair? 

Work collected here asks criticall questions that have for too long been obfuscated in the study of empire: that is, “what is owed and to whom?,” as Declan Kiberd writes in After Ireland[i], or, as the editors of The Debt Age ask, whose debt is acknowledged and whose is ignored?[ii] These enquiries regard both sides of the wealth coin: what was profited and how did it profit, and, what was taken and what did that takenness/tookenness do or wring or bring about? “Who gets and who don’t get… you know it’s all divided up… Between the takers and the ‘tooken.’ …Some of us always getting ‘tooken.’”[iii] The critical other side of racism is white privilege; the critical other sides of empire call for similar scrutiny, not only of the damages inflicted on colonized peoples and places but the capitalist appropriation (of resources, trade, under- or uncompensated labor). Empire produced massive security in the form of wealth legacies and massive precarity and poverty, disenfranchisements perhaps best evidenced by today’s wildly unequal national and global distributions of wealth.

So, we think of materialist readings of imperialist chattel enslavement that develop a clear, convincing case for restorative justice, unpacking the institution as not merely a humanitarian emergency but as an economic one—massive labor theft, massive injuriousness of every other kind in connection with processes of remuneration, restitution, and repair remain outstanding, are owed as debts are owed. A like analysis is needed regarding colonizations of First Peoples. We think too of some of less researched colonial histories—Armenia, Palestine and Israel, or the former Soviet bloc, places like Cyprus, Scotland and Ireland, or Hong Kong, as well as under-researched African nations perhaps including Tunisia, Sudan, Angola, or Liberia. However, given that such readings are generally unfamiliar to the scholarship, all locations are under consideration.

For example, what does Britain owe South Asia in the light of just the one incident in which they loaded up the entire treasury of the state of Bengal on ships and absconded with it? That treasury was never brought back or paid back. Nor were the piles of gemstones mined and appropriated by Elihu Yale, who served as magistrate in Madras, India for a number of years and also bankrolled the founding of Yale University. Far beyond their erroneously charging Haiti “reverse-reparations” for decolonization, what else does France owe Haiti, for the colonial plunder itself? What is owed numerous African nations for the “scramble” sanctioned at the Berlin conference and carried out in the decades following that barbarous meeting? How begin to taxonomize “land reform” or restoration in the context of Native North America? What does the U.S. owe mass incarcerated America, endemically police-brutalized America? Quite apart from civil suits, what is owed Kalief Browder’s family, Eric Garner’s family, in the name of the nation-state? Beyond the U.S. and what we owe the descendants of slaves, what does Britain owe those same American descendants? For it was under the British empire—with its laissez faire posture regarding how the colonizers built the colonies—that chattel slavery became an unbridled, terrifically brutal force in the North American colonies, later the new republic. 

Residues of this past “[bind] present injustice to unaddressed wrongs,” as Katherine Franke notes,[iv] thus we remember too that one reason for the passing of the fugitive slave laws was “economic” in a way beyond the economics of the institution itself: that is, that slave owners, much like today’s prison industrialists, had mortgaged their slaves, and investors had invested in these “slave-backed securities,” much like today's mortgage-backed securities. And this changed literally everything about the history of slavery, making it far more horrible for enslaved persons and far more profitable for Americans owning and abusing slaves or for those with money to invest and who were willing to invest it in enslavement. 

All that said, what other forms of injury, other damages occurred under imperialist sway? There are the obvious (but understudied) thefts of goods and trade. But additional thievings or attenuations, what have also been called "extractivisms," took place to which matters of debt and repair also attach: history and memory; language; education; epistemology, human life, full stop, many colonized individuals having died in the throes of subjugation. How were entire local eco-systems or sustainabilities damaged, and how does that coil and wend across time? How reckon with the systemic failure to keep historical records—of names, faces, places of origin or residence—reckon with the denials of education, local knowledges and knowledge systems, the erasures of language, purloined possibility and opportunity, or even simply pleasure, reverie, and love?: “[Paul D] knew exactly what she meant: to get to a place where you could love anything you chose—not to need permission for desire—well now, that was freedom.”[v] Of course the development of capital was achieved using land, roads, bridges that did not belong to colonizers, even if built by them, and through the uncompensated, enforced labor of the colonized. But empire involved the pilfering not just the wealth of nations but also of privately owned land, assets, and even industry through plantation and other schemes. What is the ‘work’ of such repair, how is it constituted, especially now facing the global climate crisis?

These are the questions we need to be asking and finding (scholarly) ways to answer. Still, few are taking on the matter of reckoning for empire; there is some research in Economics, surprisingly little in Postcolonial studies where one assumes they’d find more work taking the question of imperial reparations seriously. Work appropriate to this volume would likely fall within the rubrics of Postcolonial, North-South, Atlantic, Decolonial, and Black or First Peoples studies approaches. However any discipline or framework could work—historical, literary studies, political science, economics, feminist theory, social scientific approaches, public or urban policy or peace and conflict studies approaches, memory or trauma studies as it relates to theft, debt and repair—as Atwood wrote: “Without memory, there is no debt”[vi]—as well as the new histories of capital and the new materialism, or posthumanist / nonhumanist readings, etc.—and any geographic or national history, any methodology, data or material, as long as it is probing and theorizing the questions outlined.

To whatever extent such assertions of a necessary repairing are heeded or might succeed; whether the equilibrations occur, the return of goods, whether the trade routes and betrayed treaties are remunerated, the uncompensated labor compensated; still, documenting the debt and the non-started or unfinished processes of reparative justice, taking account of imperial injuriousness—to colonized people and their communities and their property and their quality of life, their economies and their economic sustainability, the ability to bounce back as Ireland’s Celtic Tiger proved ultimately unable to do—these must all be represented, must enter the historical record, the archive, the public policy work, and indeed the conversation quite broadly. As argued in my 2021 co-edited collection, The Economics of Empire, such forms of materialist analysis are vital and we hope defining for the future of postcolonial studies, empire studies, policy studies, legal studies, economic studies, and the many other research areas touching empire and the racial capital developed with it.

I’d need the full chapter very swiftly, by July 20th, approximately 8,000 words. In the meantime, please email me, expressing interest and also include a summary of the chapter, a working title, and a Bio, to: maureen.fadem@gmail.com 

Many thanks—

~Maureen Ellen Ruprecht, The City University of New York


[i] Declan Kiberd, After Ireland: Writing the Nation from Beckett to the Present (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2018).

[ii] Jeffrey Di Leo, Peter Hitchcock, and Sophia McClennen, The Debt Age (London and New York: Routledge, 2018).

[iii] Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun (New York: Vintage Books, 2004).

[iv] Katherine Franke, Repair: Redeeming the Promise of Abolition (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2019).

[v] Toni Morrison, Beloved: A Novel (New York and Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987).

[vi] Margaret Atwood, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, Inc., 2008).