Africana studies professor’s book, detailing how slavery’s influence survived emancipation, wins Paul E. Lovejoy Prize

Zach Sell Headshot
Zach Sell

Zach Sell’s book Trouble of the World: Slavery and Empire in the Age of Capital has won the 2022 Paul E. Lovejoy Prize from the Journal of Global Slavery for its excellence and originality in a major work related to global slavery.

The panel of judges unanimously awarded the prize to the assistant professor in Notre Dame’s Department of Africana Studies, describing his book as meticulously researched and beautifully written.

“I opened an email notifying me that I had won the award, jumped up and, in a moment of lucidity, celebrated very briefly with my partner,” said Sell, who learned of the honor while recuperating from an illness in Rhode Island. “Then I went back to sleep.”

Sell said it’s very personally meaningful that Trouble of the World — which details how slavery's influence survived emancipation and still infuses empire and capitalism — was recognized for making a contribution to the dynamic field. 

His award-winning book evolved from research that he conducted for his doctoral dissertation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Sell initially focused on the movement of enslavers and overseers between the U.S. and the British imperial world. 

“t’s been really important to work with Notre Dame students and be in dialogue with them about the history and legacies of slavery.”

As Sell did archival research abroad, he realized there was a deeper story — U.S. slavery intersected with British colonialism in Australia, Belize, and India. And his focus shifted to histories of slavery, empire, and capitalism beyond one nation. 

“I saw a history of deep interrelation between the expansion of U.S. slavery, and ultimate overthrowing of U.S. slavery on the one hand, and the transformation of the British imperial world, which has industrial capitalism at its core,” he said. 

Sell’s book concludes with a chart from the 1852 book The Future Wealth of America, which estimated that more than 71 million Black people would be enslaved in the United States in the year 2000.

“This is a terrible, white-supremacist vision that slavery would continue forever,” he said. “While such a vision didn’t become realized, this doesn’t mean slavery’s legacies or afterlives disappeared with the formal end of slavery.”

Sell, who was previously a visiting assistant professor at Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, has begun work on another book and is co-editing a special edition of the Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, titled “Subversion, Slavery, and the Work of Empire,” about the histories of resistance to slavery. He’s also co-authoring a teaching primer for instructors interested in slavery’s history within a global perspective. 

“The primer has offered me an opportunity to reflect more deeply on my own approaches to teaching the histories of slavery and freedom here at Notre Dame,” he said. “It’s been really important to work with Notre Dame students and be in dialogue with them about the history and legacies of slavery.”

Originally published by Beth Staples at on March 21, 2023.