Dr. Ward’s major areas of research include museums and public history in South African and in world history, imperialism and colonialism, forced migration in the Indian Ocean, transnationalism and oceanic history, comparative slavery and modern human trafficking.
Her first book, Networks of Empire: Forced Migration in the Dutch East India Company (2009) examines the Dutch East India Company as the first multi-national company of the modern era, in business from 1602-1799. Networks of Empire argues that the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) became an ‘empire within a state’ exercising partial sovereignty in its fluctuating Indian Ocean realm. The book grapples with broad theoretical issues on the nature of empire proposing that unstable and shifting multiple networks constitute the dynamics of imperialism. An empire inevitably involves exploitation and subjugation of people who are drawn willingly or unwillingly into these networks. But how are empires peopled? Networks of Empire examines the circulation of people through networks of free and forced migration through which imperial rulers and subjects were constituted, and through which people collaborated and resisted control over their bodies and fates.
Her current book project Suppressing Slavery at Sea explores the suppression of the maritime slave trade in the nineteenth century before and after formal emancipation in the British empire. Abolition was a gradual process in other sovereign states and empires that lasted for most of the second half of the nineteenth century. In most cases states and empires instituted formal prohibitions on the maritime slave trade well before the proclamation of emancipation. During the interim period between outlawing the maritime slave trade and outlawing slavery itself, slaves liberated from ships by the British Navy were often sold as “prize slaves” in a small number of colonies. After emancipation in the British empire, these people were designated “liberated Africans” but they were still not necessarily free to choose their own fate. This book will examine these borders between freedom and slavery as experienced by people who were slaves at sea and were subsequently rescued by British ships – only to endure a circumscribed freedom that was determined by international courts of law established in various coastal ports in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans for the purpose of adjudicating these cases.