The essays in this volume provide a new perspective on the history of convicts and penal colonies. They demonstrate that the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were a critical period in the reconfiguration of empires, imperial governmentality, and punishment, including through extensive punitive relocation and associated extractive labour. Ranging across the global contexts of Africa, Asia, Australasia, Japan, the Americas, the Pacific, Russia, and Europe, and exploring issues of criminalization, political repression, and convict management alongside those of race, gender, space, and circulation, this collection offers a perspective from the colonies that radically transforms accepted narratives of the history of empire and the history of punishment. In this introduction, we argue that a colony-centred perspective reveals that, during a critical period in world history, convicts and penal colonies created new spatial hierarchies, enabled the incorporation of territories into spheres of imperial influence, and forged new connections and distinctions between “metropoles” and “colonies”. Convicts and penal colonies enabled the formation of expansive and networked global configurations and processes, a factor hitherto unappreciated in the literature.
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