The Monetary Value of a Human Life


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships


Social and Cultural Analysis


Because slaves were categorized as property, historians have systematically overlooked how protocols for insuring enslaved workers have shaped the US life insurance industry. Between the time that the slave trade to the United States was outlawed in 1808 and slavery was abolished in 1865, slave life insurance was a crucial element of industrial insurance, a key feature of slave shipping, and a central element of credit networks throughout the agrarian south. My research demonstrates how strategies for profiting from the monetary value of a human life continued to flourish—and in some sectors to proliferate—even as the demise of legalized slavery rendered explicit efforts to monetize human beings not simply unsavory but illegal.