Programme of Public Lectures at the Wilberforce Institute, Autumn 2022

This year we have moved our lectures to a Wednesday afternoon to avoid clashes with the University teaching schedule. We hope you will be able to join us in our lovely building at 27 High Street, Hull, to hear what our speakers have to say. However, if you are unable to make it to the Institute, specific links for those who would like to stream online will be made available as each talk approaches.  These can be found by clicking on the ‘Events’ tab of our blog.

For more details of how to sign up to stream lectures, or directions to the Institute, please contact Beki Bloomfield at R.Bloomfield@hull.ac.uk

The full programme of lectures for Autumn and Spring 2022-23 is available on the ‘Event Programme’ tab, and I will be providing more information about the Spring lectures in our annual programme early next year.

In this blog I want to draw your attention to the three public lectures – on very different topics – that we have on offer this autumn.  

We begin, as usual, with our Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture, on Wednesday October 12 at 5.30pm.

For those of you who don’t know, the Lecture was created in the early 1970s by Sydney Smith, a well-known local councillor who devoted a good part of his adult life to the city of Hull. Having been first elected to Hull City Council in 1923, he served almost continuously on the Council until 1942, taking on the role of Lord Mayor in 1940. When he retired from the Council some two decades later, he was made an Honorary Alderman for life. His initial financial bequest was intended to support a four-year lecture series only, but this was converted into a perpetual endowment through a trust fund. If you are interested in knowing more about Sydney and his life you can read Mike Turner’s two-part blog, here and here.

The Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture now kicks off our series of annual lectures, and is the highlight of our annual lecture programme.  We are lucky enough to have been able to attract some very prestigious speakers over the years, and this year is no different. Professor Matthew Smith is currently Director of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership at University College London, where he is also Professor of History. He worked for several years before that at the University of the West Indies.

His research is pan-Caribbean in scope with a special interest in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century histories of Haiti and Jamaica. His publications, which are numerous and wide-ranging, include Red and Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict and Political Change, 1934-1957 (2009) and Liberty, Fraternity, Exile: Haiti and Jamaica After Emancipation (2014) Among his current research projects is a study of the representations and legacies of the Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica in 1865, and a social history of Jamaican popular music since the 1950s. 

Professor Smith was also involved in the ESRC/AHRC-funded project, Caribbean Foodscapes, which led to him becoming the Chair of the Advisory Group for an AHRC-funded project using historical approaches to research food systems to meet contemporary challenges.

In this talk, Professor Smith turns his attention and ours to the pressing matter of teaching slavery, as he discusses ‘Righting History: Why Teaching Slavery Matters’. His presentation will address some of the approaches, comments, and conflicting narratives of the history of slavery and abolition that have emerged in public spaces in recent years. This will be framed by a discussion on the history of the teaching of Caribbean slavery since the foundational work of Eric Williams in 1944 and the establishment of the University of the West Indies History department in the 1950s. It will also contrast educational imperatives on teaching slavery in the Caribbean and the UK generally, and the current demands of a younger generation for new approaches to how we teach and talk about slavery in the twenty-first century. 

For those of you who would like to stream, please register here.

On Wednesday November 9 at 4.30pm we welcome Dr Jim Powell, Honorary Research Associate in the Department of History at the University of Liverpool, who has been ploughing a very different slavery furrow – he has recently published a study of Britain’s raw cotton trade in the nineteenth century.

Taking his title and material from that book, Losing the Thread – Cotton, Liverpool and the American Civil War, Dr Powell will talk about the effect of the American Civil War on Britain’s raw cotton trade and on the Liverpool cotton market. Before the civil war, America supplied 80 per cent of Britain’s cotton. In August 1861, this fell to almost zero, where it remained for four years. Despite increased supplies from elsewhere, Britain’s largest industry received only 36 per cent of the raw material it needed from 1862 to 1864.

Losing the Thread feels very timely, given the current supply constraints that the war between Russia and Ukraine has created. Dr Powell’s book establishes the facts of Britain’s raw cotton supply during the war: how much there was of it, in absolute terms and in relation to the demand, where it came from and why, how much it cost, and what impact the reduced supply had on Britain’s cotton manufacture. It includes an enquiry into the causes of the Lancashire cotton famine, which contradicts the historical consensus on the subject. Examining the impact of the civil war on Liverpool and its cotton market, the book disputes the historic portrayal of Liverpool as a solidly pro-Confederate town. It also demonstrates how reckless speculation infested and distorted the raw cotton market, and lays bare the shadowy world of the Liverpool cotton brokers, who profited hugely from the war while the rest of Lancashire starved.

For those of you who would like to stream, please register here.

For our final talk of 2022, at 4.30pm on Wednesday December 7, we shift gear again, welcoming Dr Lucy Mayblin, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Sheffield.

Dr Mayblin in a Political Sociologist. Her researchcentres on the politics of asylum, particularly in Britain, and has included explorations of the connections between Britain’s colonial past and asylum policy today. In 2020 Lucy won one of the Philip Leverhulme Prizes for Sociology and from September 2021 has been working on an archival project on the 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees, and a contemporary exploration of the international spread of ‘crimes of solidarity’ (where citizens are punished for helping irregular migrants).

Dr Mayblin is the author of Asylum After Empire: Postcolonial Legacies in the Politics of Asylum Seeking (2017) which won the British Sociological Association’s Philip Abrams Memorial Prize in 2018, and Impoverishment and Asylum: Social Policy as Slow Violence (2019). She is on the advisory board of the Connected Sociologies Curriculum Project.

The title of her talk is ‘Criminal assistance: Understanding Crimes of Solidarity’. Over the past 20-30 years a shift has taken place in the way European, and Western states more broadly, understand asylum seeking. Asylum migration has ceased to be understood as primarily a humanitarian phenomenon, and it has come to be thought of a primarily a phenomenon of economic migration. Steps have accordingly been taken to prevent would-be asylum seekers from arriving in their territories, and to limit their rights if they do manage to arrive. This has inevitably led to the illegalisation of movement, particularly the movement of people who are seeking sanctuary. But the inhospitable actions of states have been countered by moves by a diverse range of citizens and other residents to help ‘irregular’ migrants. For example, by saving them from drowning in the sea, perishing in mountains or deserts, offering them shelter, food, showers, lifts or other acts of support such as documenting border violence. In response, states are increasingly seeking to criminalise these helpers, particularly by casting them as smugglers. This talk will discuss the emergence of what have been dubbed ‘crimes of solidarity’, how we can understand this phenomenon, and where the research gaps are in scholarly work on this topic.

For those of you who would like to stream, please register here.

I hope I have whetted your appetite for intellectual stimulation, but if there is anything else you would like to know please get in touch with me at Judith.Spicksley@hull.ac.uk or Beki at the email address above. We look forward to welcoming you in person or online.