Wilberforce Institute Webinar, Thursday 18 March2021, 4pm GMT
Grants Manager for Trust for London.
We hope you will join us for our next webinar on Thursday March 18 at our usual time of 4pm (GMT). The speaker will be Klara Skrivankova, now working as Grants Manager for Trust for London. Before joining the Trust, Klara worked for Anti-Slavery International and acted as an expert advisor to the Ethical Trading Initiative and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. She has also served on the boards of two United Nations Trust Funds and advised international bodies, including the Council of Europe. She currently serves on the boards of PIN UK, Hibiscus Initiatives and the Association of Charitable Foundations, and is involved with initiatives around international anti-trafficking and business and human rights. Recognised as an expert on human trafficking and forced labour in the UK and internationally, Klara has been working in the field since 2000.
Klara had planned to come up to the Wilberforce Institute last year, but her talk had to be put on hold because of the Covid-19 epidemic. We are delighted she has been able to reschedule.
Klara’s talk, entitled, ‘On the road to eradication: Reflections on a decade of anti-slavery efforts in the UK’,will consider how the UK’s response to modern slavery has changed over the past ten years, both from a broader international perspective and from the perspective of people’s everyday lives in communities around the country. She will discuss the impact of UK specific issues such Brexit, changes in immigration regulations and the economic impact of Covid-19, and place them alongside international developments in law and policy and the broader global problems of Covid-19 and climate change.
To sign up for this free event please click on the link below:
Since 2018, members of the Wilberforce Institute have been leading the work on a Horizon 2020 research project named ECHOES: European Colonial Heritage Modalities in Entangled Cities. The consortium is made up of a number of European institutions (Aarhus University, University of Amsterdam, University of Warsaw, University of Coimbra, University of Rennes 2), partners from outside Europe (UNIRIO (Brasil), University of Cape Town (South Africa), Department of Cultural Heritage and Museology, Fudan University (China)), as well as a set of non-academic partners. By embracing a decolonial approach, the researchers on the ECHOES project hope to address the lacunae in the interpretation and representation of our colonial heritage, both inside and outside Europe.
As part of the ECHOES project, researchers at the Wilberforce Institute have produced a series of deliverables, including materials for non-academic audiences. The last of these outputs is a policy brief for European policy makers interested in heritage diplomacy and international cultural relations. The point of departure for the brief was the realisation that 2020, with its intense challenges provided by the experience of living through a pandemic and the tragic death of African American George Floyd in May 2020, has exposed pervasive racist patterns and helped communities across the world problematise colonial legacies in a new way.
We were also mindful, when writing this brief, of how the social and economic inequalities that were amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as unequal access to healthcare, for instance (discussed here also), have exposed old colonial (Eurocentric) approaches to international relations that continue to disempower the Global South.
Moreover, the tragic and important moment of George Floyd’s death has brought a renewed urgency to the Black Lives Matter debate and provided the impetus for countries across Europe to reconsider the representation of colonial memory in public spaces. A wave of protests and debates focused on monuments, especially those of historic figures connected to slavery and colonialism (such as the much-discussed case of Bristol’s Edward Colston), have subsequently enveloped Europe, creating in their wake contentious culture wars.
These major events we have related to one of our long-standing concern within ECHOES, namely the production, representation and circulation of knowledge. The policy brief thus argues for a wider recognition of different types of knowledges in international projects, including what we define as ‘community knowledge’; the type of knowledge that cannot be classified based on a neat westernised scientific approach, e.g. folklore, storytelling, myths and narratives – some of them traumatic — transmitted orally across generations.
We are mindful that across Europe there is a severe deficit in engaging with colonialism that is not present in the case of other major historic events, such as the Holocaust or the memories of the two world wars. At this time of reflection, it is important to continue the work to identify power imbalances in institutions of different types and reconsider the ways in which we interact with marginalised groups.
Although models for international cultural relations or heritage diplomacy are commonly represented by interactions between states (and state agents), we argue that there is a need for a more complex approach that includes a wider range of actors, including non-state ones. As research in ECHOES has shown, actors working on the ground (e.g. museum curators, artists and citizen groups) often create projects and develop activities that involve a deeper engagement with colonial legacies in their communities. There is a great opportunity to further this agenda, we believe, by supporting and encouraging the work of such grassroots actors.
We also highlight in this document the importance of meaningful inter-cultural dialogue unhindered by unequal power relations in such activities. Accordingly, we argue for the importance of adequate training of EU officials and other actors involved in international projects to ensure they approach cultural differences with sensitivity. We believe that such intercultural encounters are key to continuing to generate new interpretations of shared experiences of colonialism across Europe and address the deficit mentioned at the beginning of this blog.
Our key recommendations can be summarised as follows:
There is an urgent need for EU policymakers at all levels to confront the legacies of colonialism.
While there are significant barriers to the creation of a shared European narrative on our colonial past, some of them political or related to different interpretations of the colonial past across member states, we need to arrive at a more equitable representation of colonial legacies in different narratives of shared heritages across Europe.
While top-down approaches have their merits, grassroots movements and independent cultural actors (including museum curators and artists) are vitally important in advancing our understanding of colonial legacies and in addressing these legacies sensitively.
Such independent cultural actors bring with them a wealth of local knowledge, sometimes indigenous knowledge, that needs to be incorporated into heritage diplomacy efforts on equal grounds with other forms of knowledge (e.g. scientific knowledge).
Active listening and the ability to foster genuine intercultural dialogue are skills that policymakers and EU professionals at all levels need to exercise routinely. This includes an openness towards integrating a wider range of actors in diplomatic activities and involving them in policy development processes.
European institutions, representatives and policymakers should go further in advocating the acceptance of a multicultural Europe as a precondition for thinking in terms of intercultural relations. This includes addressing inconsistencies in the treatment of heritage across different areas of policy interventions (e.g. integration, development, etc).
Whether labelled as heritage diplomacy or ICR, international collaboration projects and initiatives that address the colonial past need to be based on a foundation of trust and mitigate against unequal power relations between partners. This should include actions or any reparations needed to account for the past.
Rather than being ignored, or addressed solely by grassroots efforts, colonial heritage needs to be mainstreamed at European level and should be included as a fundamental topic in existing heritage and arts and cultures initiatives.
What are the harms inherent in human migration? Who are the victims and who is responsible? Does it make a difference whether somebody is fleeing environmental catastrophe rather than persecution or conflict? These are some of the questions I am grappling with in my PhD research, which seeks to understand the difficulties faced by migrants, particularly children, in the context of climate change.
My approach is somewhat unorthodox. I am trying to answer these questions by looking to the past, using case studies that are not directly connected to changes in the Earth’s climate. The first case study concerns the ‘boat people’ migration from post-war Vietnam (c.1975-1992), which is generally ascribed to political causes but also had environmental roots. The second is that of Montserrat, specifically the evacuation of more than half the island’s population following a series of catastrophic volcanic eruptions between 1995 and 1998. In what sense can these histories be considered ‘useable’, and provide an insight into future climate migration? For me, the answer lies in a perspective called eco-global criminology (EGC).
Like all branches of criminology, EGC is concerned with harms, victims and perpetrators. It seeks to predict future risks (to the environment, humans and animals) and develop solutions to prevent the worst environmental crimes occurring. Unlike many other branches of criminology, however, it is not limited to harms which are illegal. It also scans the global horizon for acts which are ‘lawful but awful’, which hurt the environment and by extension humanity, but are not strictly criminal. An important aspect of EGC is the transnational nature of these harms, and climate change is a truly transnational problem.
The two case studies, Vietnam and Montserrat, represent geographical regions with a history of major human migration and environmental degradation. In both cases, the people who fled their homes in the twentieth century, including large numbers of children, experienced human rights violations at the hands of the state and other actors.
Many of the children who fled volcanic eruptions in Montserrat came to the UK. Their arrival here often occurred after multiple relocations on their home island and in the Caribbean region. On arrival in the UK, some spent months, even years, in insecure and poor quality accommodation. The policies designed to prevent them leaving Montserrat in the first place, and later to protect them on their migratory journey, often failed to uphold their human rights. As a result, many of the children faced issues including poverty, insecurity, racism, trauma, family separation and a lack of educational attainment.
For all its failures, the evacuation of people from Montserrat was, to some extent, an example of planned and assisted relocation. For the boat people on the other hand, grave uncertainties, including a high chance of death, attended their irregular departure from Vietnam. Thousands were turned away by neighbouring states, resulting in many migrants perishing at sea. Others faced serious human rights abuses in camps and holding centres as they awaited resettlement.
By understanding the patterns of risk and harm that affected these migrants, EGC can help us to predict the risks that displaced persons may face in the future. Importantly, it also gives us the opportunity to prevent harm, by putting in place policies and programmes today that allow people to adapt to their changing environment, and/or protect them if they are forced to move. Vietnam and Montserrat are already experiencing climate change-related degradation and are forecast to experience worsening impacts in the coming decades. It is therefore possible that both countries will see a significant uprooting of their populations in the near future.
Today, Montserrat faces an increasing risk of strong hurricanes and, thanks to the destabilising effects of heavy rainfall, further volcanic activity. EGC can use the lessons of the past to plan for the future; to propose better policies to help Montserrat’s current generation of children remain in their homes, or in the worst case, to migrate safely and with dignity. Similar comparisons and lessons can be drawn from the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, where wartime environmental destruction led to massive food insecurity and was one push-factor in the boat people migration. Today, as flooding, drought and salinisation sweep through the Delta, similar issues threaten to uproot and scatter the rural poor. These examples of the ‘useable past’ provide the benefit of hindsight, and EGC compels us to anticipate and mitigate future harms to prevent another human tragedy.
In 1959, the environmentalist Peter Farb suggested that ‘life is like a delicate fabric’, presenting a romanticised vision of the interdependencies of the human and natural worlds. But his ultimate conclusion had a more ominous overtone:
The wonder is not that so many threads are necessary in the fabric, but rather than the fabric manages to exist at all. (P. Farb, Living Earth, 1960: 164)
When environmental harms pull at these threads, there is a grave risk that the structure will ultimately disintegrate. Both Vietnam and Montserrat have faced historical periods when the fabric of life certainly appeared to be falling apart, with both the natural world and human society hurtling towards a dangerous threshold. Climate change represents a similar existential threat today. Using an EGC approach may help prevent repetition of some of humanity’s past mistakes, as a small contribution to our collective battle against the gravest risk we face.
Africans have been part of US history since they first landed in the colony of Virginia twelve years after Jamestown was founded in 1607. Their numbers grew, first by import and then by natural reproduction, to around 4 million (or one in nine) of the US population by 1865, the vast majority enslaved, enriching with little or no personal gain their masters and the communities for which they were forced to toil. Simultaneously, the new nation that emerged in 1776-1783 emphasized its attachment to personal freedom, encouraging white migration by those facing persecution and poverty in Europe in search of an American dream of self-realization and prosperity linked to natural ability and to bountiful natural resources. Some arrived in forms of time-limited bondage, but no Europeans experienced life-long or heritable slavery. If Africans preceded the arrival of Dutch, Irish, German, and other settlers in the Americas, racial slavery denied them access to the American dream that the others were offered. Despite emancipation in 1863, the legacies of such slavery continue to blight the lives of most African Americans today. It does not need to be so. Indeed, by recognizing Africans’ long history in America and their historic contribution to its fortunes, social justice demands it should not be so. Realizing the American dream demands freedom for all, not just some.
The Narrative by Venture Smith (aka Broteer Furor), published in 1798, opens a window on how, even while debate over the future of slavery in the new nation was alive, Africans as free people would contribute to the national wellbeing. Several editions of Smith’s Narrative have appeared, the one that this blog highlights being the first to be published in Fante, the last language that Smith probably heard as he was forced to leave the land of his birth for America in 1739 (Facsimile editions of the narrative, produced by the Documenting Venture Smith Project, and including an introduction and a timeline, are available from Chandler Saint, at cost and with postage in the UK, at £5.50).
Enslaved in his youth, Smith prized the very freedoms upon which the idea of the American dream was based. He worked tirelessly over twenty-six years to liberate himself from slavery, achieving his goal in 1765. Freedom was not something he learned about in his acquired New England home; he brought the concept with him from Africa. It was part of his African heritage. Once free again, he established himself as a family farmer and built a successful business, in part by supporting the cause of those who fought to free the thirteen colonies from the alleged tyranny of George III’s government. He established a family dynasty and a reputation for integrity and honesty in his dealings with others. He helped others to acquire freedom from slavery. And, unlike so many enslaved Africans, whose final resting places are unknown, Venture Smith was buried in 1805 in a marked grave in the Congregational churchyard of East Haddam, Connecticut. Smith’s life and his gravestone revealed a belief in the American dream that few other of his contemporaries were allowed to demonstrate. They showed what was possible if only the American claim of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness applied to all Americans regardless of race or other forms of social difference.
The tragedy for Venture Smith and for the millions of those who came to or were born in America as slaves is that notwithstanding gaining personal freedom in law, race would disqualify them from fully realizing the American dream. To be African was a barrier to becoming an American. Venture Smith knew it. Despite 60 years residence in his adopted homeland, despite his economic success, despite his reputation for truth and integrity, despite even his reconciliation with his former owner Oliver Smith from whom he took his surname, Venture Smith’s last years were blighted by what he saw as racial prejudice. He fought it, as many others subsequently would, through the courts. He doubtless saw it too in the gradualism of slave emancipation that Connecticut enshrined in law in 1784. It was written large in the constitutional settlement of the new nation in 1789. And he almost certainly knew on his deathbed in 1805 that it would blight the lives of those of African descent who followed him.
The Narrative published by Venture Smith in 1798 is an inspirational story. It deserves to be better known, not only by those living in the continent where he was born (hence its translation into native African languages) but also by all Americans who are descended from those who, because of persecution, poverty, or enslavement, left the Old World for the so-called New. It reminds us in sober but uplifting ways how ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things even in the most unpromising circumstances. It speaks directly to its readers in uncomplicated language. It narrates a story of hope and, in the context of US history, one that imagines Africans as well as those of European descent sharing in the new nation’s dreams. But it was a story, too, tinged with profound sadness, even bitterness; one that foretold how racial prejudice identified with slavery would prevent so many of African descent from realizing their ambitions. Such prejudice would, Venture Smith knew, deny the nation he helped to found in his lifetime the full fruits of Africans’ inherent talents and values. The flame of hope that Smith identified in 1798 still remains alight today among at least some of his descendants, but two hundred years on continuing racial prejudice and social injustice prevent it from burning as brightly as it should for so many Americans of African descent. The human and social costs of such discrimination remain profound for the whole nation not just those directly subject to it. It is surely time to recognize that truth for the benefit of all who look, as Venture Smith did in 1798, to the United States as their place of residence or their home.
Wilberforce Institute Webinar, Thursday 11 February2021, 4pm GMT
On February 11 at 4pm GMT we hold our regular ‘What’s going on at the Wilberforce Institute?’ slot, this year by webinar, when we showcase the work of our PhD students. This year we welcome back Craig Barlow, now with his doctorate completed: he successfully defended his thesis in April last year. Craig will talk on ‘Criminal Exploitation and the Statutory Defence: Putting Theory into Practice’. Since he completed his thesis, entitled ‘Child Criminal Exploitation: A New Systemic Model to Improve Professional Assessment, Investigation and Intervention’, the model he devised has been applied to case analysis and the development of expert evidence in both the criminal and family justice systems, in relation to modern slavery, and in the wider context of the general safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults. His presentation will describe and explain this approach in the context of trafficking for criminal exploitation and the statutory defence for victims of criminal exploitation under Section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
Our three newest PhD students, Isabel Arce Zelada, Mavuto K. Banda and Jen Nghishitende, who make up the ‘Living with Modern Slavery’ cluster, will follow, giving us insights into their research so far. All three joined us in Autumn last year, despite experiencing a number of problems as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 epidemic. They have done incredibly well in difficult circumstances and have now begun to put their own stamp on their projects.
Isabel will talk first about ‘Asylum as Violence in UK Courts’.
Her project looks at the process of asylum within the liminal state of being outside of the nation-state as a person seeking asylum. By acknowledging that we live under a grand narrative of human rights that are tied to nations the liminal space of leaving a nation-state to seek refuge somewhere else exposes a state of being in which no nation-state is kept responsible for the enforcement of an individual’s human rights. How does this affect subjectification?
The asylum process is heavily reliant on the narrative of the person seeking asylum, however, it also scrutinises the narrative from the initial interview and throughout the court hearing. Whether the person is accepted as a refugee by the end of the process or not they will have experienced:
being extracted from their previous nation to refer to them as an individual in the eyes of the court;
being subjectified into categories already existing in the asylum narrative; and
having their identity questioned by national or personal notions of what that identity should be.
Isabel is interested in the reality of going through a process of subjectification in which identities are disputed and asked to be proven throughout that process. And what are the experiences of those going through a process in which the subjectification into an asylum seeker and a refugee supersedes the personal subjectification of the person seeking asylum?
Jen will talk next about her project, which investigates a related issue: ‘The Dignity and Rights of Women and Children Subjected to Modern Slavery in the United Kingdom’.
In recent years, the spotlight has been placed on the accounts of survivors of modern slavery – their tales of slavery and their eventual escape or rescue. As such, scant attention has been placed on what happens after slavery: how survivors go on with their lives and how they reintegrate into society with their rights and dignity intact. Jen’s research will investigate life after modern slavery in the United Kingdom, specifically focusing on women and children and how they attempt to move on with their lives after experiencing the ordeal of modern slavery, including the support available to them to achieve ‘normal’ lives.
Finally, Mavuto’s project comes at modern slavery from the opposite perspective, investigating how restrictions on modern slavery can work to make children more vulnerable to exploitation. His project is entitled ‘Evaluating child labour bans in Malawi’s agriculture’.
The United Nations and International Labour Organisation are promoting children’s rights and fighting against all forms of child labour around the globe through legal frameworks. Being one of the signatories to these greements, the Malawi Government has put in place policies and legal instruments to operationalise their international obligations on children’s rights and committed itself to combat child labour. This study aims at exploring the impact of banning under-18 year olds from working in the commercial tea and tobacco estates in Malawi on youth and their families’ livelihoods.
To attend this free event, please click on the link below:
The Wilberforce Institute is involved in a number of collaborative research projects, among them ‘The Anti-Slavery Knowledge Network’ (AKN), led by the universities of Hull, Liverpool and Nottingham. As its name implies, AKN is about knowledge and knowledge sharing, in this case in sub-Saharan Africa. The aim of the project, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, is to show how the arts and humanities can help to build resilience in communities vulnerable to human trafficking, forced labour and child exploitation through strategic, heritage-led interventions: such things as community radio, music, storytelling, performance and film.
In the initial phases of AKN, we set up a number of pilot projects, including a series of projects in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where researchers at the Wilberforce Institute already had close contacts, among them Lansana Mansaray (‘Barmmy Boy’), a talented young filmographer who runs a cooperative called ‘We Own TV’. Eager to get these projects started, in February 2018 I visited Freetown, taking this opportunity to introduce our work to the British Council, DfID and government ministers. I also made contact with local NGOs, community groups, heritage clubs and members of the Sierra Leone Historic Monuments Commission, some of these groups later becoming our partners.
One of the people that Barmmy introduced me to while I was in Freetown was Brima Sheriff, a filmmaker, activist and former Human Rights Commissioner. Brilliantly talented, Brima Sheriff began his career with Amnesty International, eventually becoming Director of the Sierra Leone Section. It was this work that drew him to the attention of the Sierra Leone government, which in 2012 made him one of its Human Rights Commissioners. An outspoken critic of human rights abuses in Sierra Leone, Brima subsequently fell foul of the ruling party, which in 2017 rather unceremoniously removed him from office. When I interviewed him in 2018, all of this was still very much on his mind and provided the backdrop to a conversation that ranged widely over local politics, human rights and the future prospects of Sierra Leone.
By the end of our interview, we had over an hour’s worth of material. Barmmy later edited this down into a series of shorter films, two of which can be accessed via the links below. In the first of these, Brima speaks eloquently about the relationship between the arts and humanities and what we might call social development, drawing on his extensive experience as a filmmaker. The second video deals with the subject of contemporary slavery in Sierra Leone, a problem that Brima sees as being rooted in his country’s social structure (especially family life and the role of women) and its peculiar demography. Shot in his own home and against the noise of the busy street outside, these are intimate films in which Brima speaks frankly about some of the challenges facing Sierra Leone in the twenty-first century.
I would also like to thank ‘Barmmy Boy’ for all his hard work on this project, not only in setting up my interview with Brima Sheriff but also in editing the material and producing these short videos. As it turned out, this was the first interview that Brima had given since stepping down as Human Rights Commissioner, and for that I am immensely grateful. Brima Sheriff is a compelling figure: impassioned, eloquent and forthright. We hope that these videos will bring his unique voice to wider audiences and help to raise awareness about slavery and human trafficking, modern-day scourges that continue to have a devastating impact on communities across Africa and beyond.
The two films made during the project can be viewed here:
In today’s blog Trevor Burnard, Director of the Wilberforce Institute, provides a summary of the last of his publications in 2020.
The Atlantic in World History (London: Bloomsbury, 2020)
Atlantic history as a way of envisioning the making of the early modern world is a historiography that arose in the 1970s, became more fully developed in the 1990s and 2000s, and has by 2020 become an established field of historical inquiry. My synthesis of Atlantic history, based on being a practitioner of such history for nearly thirty years, provides a quick introduction for students and the general reader to this interesting field. It is a field that at bottom is an exploration of movement across the ocean and between the four continents of Africa, the Americas, and Europe – that movement being the movement of people, things and ideas. It starts with European involvement in Africa in the mid-fifteenth century and Columbus’ epoch-making voyages to the Caribbean from 1492. It ends in the mid-nineteenth century, with the abolition of slavery in most New World societies. The book explores how the peoples and the environments of Atlantic places were linked together, in ways that were both good and bad, but always historically interesting. I show how the Atlantic has been more than just an ocean – it has been an important site of circulation and transmission, allowing exchanges and interchanges between various peoples in ways that have profoundly shaped the development of the world beyond, as well as within, the Atlantic.
As the Atlantic world was about more than slavery, so slavery forms only part of a book in which gender, religion and trades are extensively discussed. Nevertheless, slavery is a vital part of the Atlantic world and indispensable to its workings. I explore its Iberian origins, its African dimensions and its apogee in the eighteenth-century Caribbean and North America before examining how the institution most central to Atlantic history, outside empire and the monarchy, was abolished in a very quick time. From the late eighteenth century abolition was built on two foundations: the establishment of an abolition movement by a determined and small number of evangelical Britons led by William Wilberforce, and the resistance of the enslaved in the Americas. The most important slave resistance to planter power was in Haiti between 1791 and 1804, an event that has a prominent role in my chapter on the age of revolutions.
I end my account by recalling the quintessential American song `Oh! Susanna’ written by Stephen Foster in 1847. It is a very African and Atlantic song as well as an American song – a `negro melody,’ as Foster called it. It is a comic, indeed tragicomic, retelling of the story of an enslaved person left behind in the many breakups that characterized African American slavery in the nineteenth century. It is a song written by a person of European heritage using the voice of a descendant of Africans wanting to leave a place which had once been Native American land. Thus, it unites through culture the ways in which peoples of the Atlantic were brought, often unwillingly, together. These many connections point to the continuing relevance of Atlantic history today.
‘Atlantic Slave-Systems and Violence,’ in Erica Charters, Marie Houllemare and Peter H. Wilson, eds, Violence in the Early Modern Period (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020)
In this chapter on violence in the Atlantic slave trade, I start by noting how we have to be careful when talking about violence and slavery. There are good reasons not to luxuriate in the details of violence and thus re-inscribe the problems of violence as experienced by enslaved people. Brutal language hardens rather than softens the reader to the violence of slavery, especially when acts of brutality are catalogued at repeated length, making it hard to engage fully with a more important subject – what did violence mean and how did violence operate to strengthen or weaken the institution of enslavement. I argue here that brutality, violence and death were not mere by-products of the extremely lucrative early modern plantation system but were the sine qua non of the plantation world.
In this article, I ask the following questions. First, was violence central or incidental to the ideology of enslavement and to the workings of the Atlantic slave trade, in particular? I argue it was central. I also ask about the effectiveness of violence in maintaining planter power. I argue again that violence produced generally efficacious results for slave owners in keeping control over enslaved people. It was less effective in convincing rulers in Europe that planters’ authority over their slaves was legitimate.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to suggest that acts of violent resistance by enslaved people were ineffective and pointless, even though such acts seldom met with any success. When enslaved people were violent, it demonstrated three things. First, it showed fellow enslaved people that some of their compatriots were prepared to reject their place in the system. Second, it showed to opponents of slavery that slave masters’ propaganda about slaves being happy with their place in society was just that – slavery was not a benevolent institution but one upheld by coercion and through punishment. Finally, violence by slaves was often interpreted by abolitionists through a Christian lens, in which the iconography of Christ’s martyrdom was equated with suffering slaves.
Covid-19 may continue to restrict our opportunities to meet in person, but we hope you will join us in the coming weeks as we bring you a range of expert speakers with a wide variety of interests in our Spring season of webinar talks. Further details and confirmed titles will be available in due course, but for now we aim to introduce you to our experts and their interests. The talks will run from January until May.
Voices of the Enslaved draws on an exceptional set of source material about slavery in French America: court cases in which the enslaved themselves testified. It has won no fewer than seven awards to date, including the prestigious Frederick Douglass Award 2020 for the best book published in English on slavery, resistance or abolition.
Professor White is a historian of early America with an interdisciplinary focus on cultural encounters between Europeans, Africans and Native Americans, and a commitment to Atlantic and global research perspectives. She is also the author of Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana (Penn Press/McNeil Center for Early American Studies, 2012), of over 10 articles and essays on slavery and race, is co-editor with Trevor Burnard of Hearing Enslaved Voices: African and Indian Slave Testimony in British and French America, 1700–1848 (Routledge, 2020), and is completing a digital humanities project on slave testimony as autobiography in collaboration with the Omohundro Institute.
To sign up for this free event please click on the link below:
February sees our regular ‘What’s going on at the Wilberforce Institute?’ slot, when we showcase the work of some of our PhD students. This year we welcome back Craig Barlow, who successfully defended his thesis in April last year on the subject of ‘Child Criminal Exploitation: A new systematic model to improve professional assessment, investigation and intervention’. He will present a summary of his findings. Our three newest PhD students, Isabel Arce Zelada, Mavuto K. Banda and Jen Nghishitende, who make up the ‘Living with the consequences of slavery’ cluster, will draw the evening to a close with a brief discussion of their projects so far.
To sign up for this free event please click on the link below:
In March we welcome Klara Skrivankova, formerly of Anti-Slavery International, who is now working as Grants Manager for Trust for London.
Recognised as an expert on human trafficking and forced labour in the UK and internationally, she has been working in the field since 2000. Klara will share her reflections on the UK’s response to modern slavery over the past ten years and consider how close we are to eradicating it.
To sign up for this free event please click on the link below:
For our April session we welcome Dr Laura Sandy, Senior Lecturer in the History of Slavery and Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of International Slavery at the University of Liverpool.
Dr Sandy’s work has involved archival research in every former slave state in the southern United States looking at slavery, plantation management, resistance, free people of colour, voluntary enslavement, the theft of enslaved people and the laws of slavery. Her most recent work investigates the illegal trafficking of the enslaved in North America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Thursday May 20 2021, 4pm BST
In our final webinar of the Spring in May we welcome Dr Jelmer Vos, Lecturer in Global History at the University of Glasgow. His research interests focus on Angola, the Atlantic slave trade, and commodity history in Africa.
Dr Vos was part of the team that developed the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database, and he acted as consultant on the project to establish historical connections between ABN AMRO, a Dutch bank, and slavery in the Atlantic world. His current book looks at the role of Angola in the global coffee economy, examining how Angolan robusta coffee became a global commodity, and how western demand for this product affected the lives of the Africans who produced it.
The tumultuous nature of 2020 has impacted many fields of scholarship and research, not least slavery studies. This year has witnessed a re-evaluation of the place of transatlantic slavery in Britain’s history and public memory. For centuries, Britain benefitted enormously from the highly lucrative network of global commerce that existed between the United Kingdom [UK], West Africa, slave-holding British colonies in North America, and British territories in the Caribbean. At its heart was the exploitation of enslaved people of African descent. While much work has been done to examine the uncomfortable truths of Britain’s involvement in transatlantic slavery, this difficult part of our history is often omitted or forgotten in public discussions of the nation’s past.
Recent events associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, and the intense media spotlight subsequently focused on who should and should not be celebrated in Britain’s public history, has led to calls for national institutions to review and reinterpret statues, heritage collections and paintings in the public realm. The Mayor of London announced a commission to review diversity in London’s public landmarks and a recent audit commissioned by the First Minister of Wales identified over 200 public memorials in Wales associated with transatlantic slavery. Wealth associated with colonialism and the business of slavery subsequently invested in some of Britain’s grand houses is investigated in a report by the National Trust, and an audit commissioned by Historic England reviews the research undertaken in this field in relation to the built environment. There are renewed calls for more representative accounts of Black history – and particularly Black British history – in the national curriculum.
This level of scrutiny into the representation of this contested aspect of British history is not unprecedented. If 2020 represents a pivotal moment in Britain’s engagement with its slaving past, our new article examines the impact of a similarly decisive moment: 2007, the year of much commemorative activity and public discussion marking the bicentenary of the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act.
With governmental backing and the availability of finance through the Heritage Lottery Fund and other funding bodies, a huge number of institutions, heritage organisations, schools, theatres, youth and community groups mounted projects and exhibitions in 2007 that explored local and national connections to the history of transatlantic slavery and its abolition. Nearly 350 of these commemorative projects have been archived in the Remembering 1807 digital archive produced by researchers at the Wilberforce Institute, part of the Antislavery Usable Past, a collaborative Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project. Remembering 1807 gives access to hundreds of resources emerging from the excellent research carried out in that year. In part, this archive is itself a work of preservation and commemoration. More to the point, however, it also provides us with a ready-made opportunity to evaluate what really happened in 2007, particularly at the local level, and to correct some lingering misconceptions about the nature of the bicentenary.
As we reveal in our article, while much of what occurred in 2007 in relation to the bicentenary was legitimately criticised as a ‘Wilberfest’ (with an over-concentration on William Wilberforce and other abolitionists), the array and scope of projects that took place around the country also revealed how far representations of the nation’s contribution to the business of transatlantic slavery were revised and contested in 2007, part of a movement to acknowledge and interpret this history for a wider public audience. New permanent spaces, such as the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool and the ‘London, Sugar and Slavery’ galleryat the Museum of London Docklands, reflected on all aspects of British involvement, and the many forms of African resistance to slavery. Detailed associations with transatlantic slavery were also made in locales beyond the ports of London, Liverpool and Bristol, as local archives and collections were investigated for links to abolitionists but also to slave traders and plantation owners, to local trade and industry, to country houses, and to stories of Black British history. In large part, community activism lay at the heart of 2007’s bicentenary commemorations, as many projects sought to examine the contemporary relevance of 1807 and the transatlantic slave trade to the UK’s diverse communities.
Why is examining commemorative activity that took place more than a decade ago important? 2020 has shown that discussion and debate about how as a nation the UK remembers and memorialises its slaving past is more pertinent than ever. It also reminds us how much of this history and its legacies remains uncovered. Learning lessons from what was absent during the bicentenary can help to (re)orientate future memory work around Britain’s role in transatlantic slavery. Understanding what has been done (or not done) in the past provides signposts for fruitful new avenues of examination and analysis.
New scholarship and research projects since 2007 relating to the historical archive of Britain’s investments in slavery provide much stimulus for examining this history. For example, Slave Voyages facilitates searches on thousands of slave voyages between 1514 and 1866, including those sailing from British ports. The Legacies of British Slave-ownershipprovides data about the individuals and businesses who claimed compensation for loss of their enslaved workers when slavery was abolished in the British Caribbean in 1834, and who invested the profits from the business of slavery in a variety of different ways.
Looking forward, there are other anniversaries relating to transatlantic slavery to come, including the bicentenary in 2033 of the Emancipation Act of 1833 and in 2038, the bicentenary of the 1838 Act to abolish the apprenticeship clause (considered by many to represent the true ‘end’ of slavery in the Caribbean). Past commemorative efforts can inform future ones, providing tools and knowledge to affect public discussions about slavery, not least through engagement with local communities and new audiences. It is key, therefore, for historians, heritage bodies, and local and community specialists to keep identifying, recontextualising and diversifying the narrative around the history of Britain’s slavery past.
In this final blog of 2020, Trevor Burnard and Andrew Smith provide updates on recent initiatives to tackle modern slavery. First, Andrew provides an overview of practical developments in our region that aim to combat modern slavery, taken from his November newsletter.
Tackling Modern Slavery
Seven-strong purge on Modern Slavery A unique and trail blazing approach to tackling modern day slavery is set to crank up the heat on those who exploit people through business activities and supply chains. Seven Police and Crime Commissioners and their respective Chief Constables including Humberside have worked together to develop a Modern Slavery Transparency in Supply Chains (TISC) Statement. In Humberside, the commitment by Police and Crime Commissioner Keith Hunter to fund the partnership coordinator role and support the creation of our dedicated Operation Wilberforce police team means that our Anti-Slavery efforts are now firmly part of daily business. While there is still much work to do to embed a sustainable and meaningful response in all sectors, stakeholders, partners and those who have a statutory duty to respond to modern slavery in our area have more support than ever before to meet their obligations.
Force wide strategy to tackle modern slavery – Humberside Modern Slavery Partnership Strategic Plan 2020 – 2023 To coincide with Anti-Slavery Day 2020, the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership released the first modern slavery strategy for the Humber region. This progressive move sets the tone for partnership action over the next three years in combatting this despicable crime. Spanning all four local authority areas in our region, this new, overarching strategy brings together statutory and non-statutory partners including law enforcement, academics and health and third sector professionals to give a focused and targeted approach to modern slavery and human trafficking. For more details see Andrew’s earlier blog at: https://wilberforceinstitute.uk/2020/10/26/combating-modern-slavery-in-the-humber/
Innovative new workshops will help frontline workers respond to cases of modern slavery The University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute has helped launch a new series of innovative resources, designed to help frontline workers respond to individual cases of modern slavery. Launched to mark Anti-Slavery day this year, the Institute, in partnership with The Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre, has announced new resources and workshops. These have been led by a team at the Institute, in collaboration with the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership and Fresca Group. The workshops provided to partnership coordinators across the country will help support the training needs among partners working in our communities. For more details see the earlier blog by Alicia Kidd, who led the project, at: https://wilberforceinstitute.uk/2020/08/13/modern-slavery-partnership-workshops/
In the second part of this blog, Trevor Burnard introduces the launch of a major new appeal for tackling modern slavery.
ACTion to End Modern Slavery
At the University of Hull we are proud of the work carried out at the Wilberforce Institute in understanding and tackling modern day slavery. However, success has been hard won, and the uphill battle continues in the face of increased incidences of modern slavery in the UK.
The Wilberforce Institute is therefore delighted to launch a funding drive for a major new initiative increasing knowledge about the Modern Slavery Act and its operations here in the UK. Action is needed now. Modern slavery and human trafficking are among the UK’s biggest criminal industries and we can only defeat them together. That’s why we’re asking for your support. This week we are launching our fundraising campaign to help the Wilberforce Institute become a hub in the fight against this evil crime. The UK government passed the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, but without additional expertise within the justice system, as well as insight and support for those working to de-criminalise victims, this legislation is too complex to be effective.
The Wilberforce Institute has the ability to play a unique role in building a collaborative network within the legal profession and beyond. With our networks, research and expertise, we can develop strategic and coordinated approaches in protecting, investigating and prosecuting, turning dry legislation into an effective tool for emancipating victims.
More information about the campaign can be found here.