The transatlantic slave trade and the plantation complex are well-studied subjects, but scholars have rightly pointed out that we do not clearly understand the earliest phases, at the beginning of the sixteenth century. We do not know when and by whom the early slave voyages were organized from West Africa. We do not know when the slave trade from the African and the Atlantic archipelagos - São Tomé, Cape Verde, the Canaries, and Madeira - became a regular and complex process. This talk focuses on the very early phase of this phenomenon, looking at the Genoese merchants who invested and traded in Africa and the Atlantic between the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Using unstudied sources that have recently come to light, the larger project aims at building a database of the Genoese diaspora. Considering a wider chronology, the research also focuses on some economic institutions, such as the mahona, the commenda contract and the plantation complex, which spanned for several centuries and have been used, transplanted, and hybridized by Genoese traders. The fortune of these institutions in the historiography and the way they have been studied from a Eurocentric perspective can now be questioned to achieve a better understanding of economic processes.
Carlo Taviani is a historian specializing in political conflicts in Renaissance Italy, the economic history of Genoa, and the Genoese trade diaspora. In recent years, he has held fellowships at institutions including the German Historical Institute in Rome, the Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Storici, Villa I Tatti, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., and the Italian-German Historical Institute in Trent. He has been a visiting scholar at the University of Chicago and Yale University’s MacMillan Center, and has taught at the Università degli Studi di Teramo, the Università degli Studi di Trento, and the University of Cape Town. Currently, Carlo is a Research Associate at Villa I Tatti, where he continues his research on the Genoese trade diaspora in West Africa and the Atlantic and institutional transplantation.