Victims of Modern Slavery in the UK 2021

Sophie Blanchard

MA student, Criminology and Crime Control 

Department of Criminology, University of Hull

s.l.blanchard-2017@hull.ac.uk

Sophie Blanchard is an MA student on the Criminal Justice and Crime Control course at the University of Hull. Her research focuses on the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) and her MA dissertation project looks at the effectiveness of the NRM in identifying and protecting potential victims of modern slavery.  In this blog she summarises the 2021 Home Office Report on the NRM.

New statistics have been released, summarising information on people who have been identified as potential victims of modern slavery in the UK in 2021. The statistical bulletin provides a breakdown of the number of potential victims that were referred into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) or via the Duty to Notify process. It breaks down the data in a number of ways, including via the ages of the potential victims, as well as their nationalities, gender, and type of exploitation they experienced.

The NRM, which was set up in 2009, is the governmental framework used in the UK to identify and support potential victims of modern slavery who have been identified by a set list of First Responders. The Duty to Notify process collects data on adults who do not consent to be referred to the NRM (children are not required to give consent). Combined, these figures give an estimate of the picture of modern slavery in the UK.

The term ‘potential victims’ is used to denote that these are the figures relating to individuals referred into the NRM, or via the Duty to Notify process. These figures are likely to be significantly lower once individuals have been through the NRM’s two-tier decision making process to determine that, on the balance of probabilities, a competent authority believes them to meet the definition of being victims of modern slavery.

How many people have been identified?

In 2021, 12,727 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK were referred to the Home Office, which represents a 20% increase compared to the 10,601 potential victims referred in 2020. The number of potential victims of modern slavery in the UK has been increasing each year since 2014, apart from a slight decrease in 2020, commonly noted to be a result of the national lockdowns in response to the Covid-19 pandemic:

YearNumber of Referrals
20142,340
20153,266
20163,805
20175,145
20186,993
201910,627
202010,601
202112,727

The number of referrals received in 2021 has been the highest since the NRM began in 2009. However, the increase in referrals does not necessarily correlate with there being more victims, but could indicate that First Responders are improving at identifying potential victims. Reports via the Duty to Notify process alone have increased by 47% from 2020 with 3,190 reports of potential victims, which indicates a better awareness of this system amongst professionals.

Are the victims adults or children?

Of the potential victims identified, 848 (7%) were of unknown age, 6,411 (50%) were adults, which has increased from 48% in 2020, and 5,468 (43%) were children (minors, under the age of 18). After October 2019, when criminal exploitation was set as its own category of exploitation (where previously it was counted within labour exploitation) which made it easier to identify different types of exploitation that potential victims were being subjected to, referrals indicated that labour exploitation was the most common form of exploitation suffered by adults, while minors (under 18) were more likely to be victims of criminal exploitation. This year’s statistics continue this trend, with these still being the most common forms of exploitation for adult and child victims of modern slavery. In 2021, labour exploitation was the most reported form of exploitation amongst adult potential victims at 33%; 2,141 victims. The most referred exploitation for child potential victims was criminal exploitation at 49%; 2,689 cases.

What gender are the victims?

Of those 12,727 identified in 2021, 9,790 (77%) were male and 2,923 (23%) were female. The remaining 14 are categorised under ‘Not specified or unknown’ or ‘Other’. The statistics of genders of victims are similar to the previous years, but male potential victims have been increasing in referrals over the years. In 2021, 75% of adult potential victims (4,812) and 79% of child potential victims (4,314) were male, whilst 25% of adult potential victims (1,594) and 21% of child potential victims (1,145) were female. The majority of female potential victims, both adults and children, were victims of sexual exploitation.

What are the nationalities of the victims?

The most common nationalities of potential victims identified in the UK in 2021 were UK, Albanian and Vietnamese nationals respectively. UK nationals accounted for 3,952 (31%) of potential victims which decreased slightly from the previous year of 34% in 2020. Albanian nationals were the second most referred nationality with 2,511 (20%) which increased from 15% in 2020, and the third was Vietnamese with 991 (8%). Eritrean also had a notable increase in referrals in 2021, which increased from 395 (3%) in 2020, to 712 (6%) in 2021.

What types of exploitation have the victims experienced?

The data tables which provide the breakdown of information on referrals include a summary of the types of exploitation suffered by those identified as potential victims. These include criminal exploitation, labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and organ harvesting. The data summarises the number of referrals for each category of exploitation, including where multiple forms of exploitation were experienced. Looking at cases where only one form of exploitation was experienced, the most common form of exploitation identified in 2021 was criminal exploitation with 4,155 referrals. This has increased since becoming classed as a separate form of exploitation in October 2019, before which it was categorised within labour exploitation, making it harder to identify as a distinct form of exploitation. Labour exploitation made up 3,127 of the referrals in 2021 and sexual exploitation made up 1,266 referrals. However, a concerningly large number of referrals, 1,046 cases, were referred under ‘unknown or not specified’ exploitation which raises concerns over the level of detail provided within the referral forms.

The findings of the 2021 report make for difficult reading. If you have any questions, please contact Sophie at the email address above.

The Professor Surya Subedi Global Essay Prize

Professor Surya Subedi QC, OBE, DCL, DPhil (Oxford), Barrister

Professor of International Law at the University of Leeds

On 22 February, 2022, the University of Hull and the Wilberforce Institute launched the Professor Surya Subedi Global Essay Prize on Modern Slavery or the Protection of Human Dignity. This prize of £500 will be awarded annually by the Wilberforce Institute for the best original essay in English on the abolition of any form of modern slavery or the protection of human dignity anywhere in the world. The Prize will be awarded for the first time in March 2023. 

“Professor Subedi is a world-renowned scholar and a champion of human rights. Through his work as a barrister, and numerous high-level positions in governments and national and international organisations, he works incredibly hard to make a difference to the real life of the people around the world. We are extremely proud to present this prize in Professor Subedi’s honour, to raise awareness of modern slavery at a critical time.”

Professor Trevor Burnard, Director of the Wilberforce Institute.

Professor Subedi has published widely on a raft of issues related to human rights and international law, and he has managed to combine this with more practical work in public international law throughout his career. From 2009 to 2015 he was the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia and from 2010 to 2015 he served as a member of a high-level Advisory Group on Human Rights to the British Foreign Secretary. He was a government nominee for appointment to the position of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2014. He was elected to the Institut de Droit International at its Session in Rhodes in 2011 and made a Membre Titulaire in 2015. IN 2017 he was appointed Queen’s Counsel honoris causa for his contribution to the development of international law and to the advancement of human rights.

There can be very few alumni of the University of Hull who have touched the lives of so many people in such a profound way. Over a long career in the field of International Human Rights Law, Professor Surya Subedi has worked tirelessly to encourage and assist governments to work towards establishing independent judiciaries. He has secured the release of journalists from prisons, facilitated the safe return of exiled opposition leaders, improved prison conditions and modified land concessions to mitigate human rights abuses in Cambodia.

Asked if he felt the weight of Hull’s connection to causes of human rights, liberty and emancipation while he was studying here, Professor Subedi admitted he did, and that he was inspired by the Wilberforce Museum in particular. His gift to the University will ensure that his name is connected in perpetuity with the advancement of study into the causes for which he has worked so passionately.

This Prize has been made possible by a generous donation from Professor Surya P. Subedi, who graduated in law from the University of Hull in 1988 and is currently Professor of International Law at the University of Leeds. Born in Nepal, where he first studied law, and where his interest in international law began, Professor Subedi won a British Council Scholarship (now known as Chevening Scholarship) to study for an LLM in International Law in 1986, and chose Hull because it had a good reputation in international law, and was known to have a ‘beautiful small compact campus and friendly staff’. Interviewed in 2017, Professor Subedi revealed that he had been advised to choose a ‘smaller nice university like Hull’ because there ‘your professors will get to know you better and you will receive the support and guidance that you will need to do well in your studies’.  He certainly made the most of his studies at Hull, gaining a distinction in his LLM, and has never looked back. After a brief return to Nepal, Professor Subedi enrolled in a doctoral programme in Oxford, after which he entered academia.

The competition is open to any graduate in law and social sciences or humanities from around the world regardless of their nationality. The award will focus on enhancing the employability and profile of early-career academics and will therefore be restricted to candidates below the age of 40 at the time of submission. It must be a single-authored essay and the author must state in the submission that they are the sole author, and they own the copyright in the essay. The essay submitted should have a title which is both concise and descriptive and must be accompanied by an abstract of no more than 150 words in 10-point Times New Roman. It must be an academic piece of work with proper citations and must not have already been published. The length of the essay must be between 3000 and 5000 words, including footnotes following any standard format of referencing such as OSCOLA or Harvard style. The submission must be accompanied by a copy of the CV of the candidate.

The essay must be submitted electronically either in Microsoft Word or in PDF format to the following email address: Wilberforceinstitute@hull.ac.uk The deadline for the first round of essays is 31 December 2022 and the prize of £500 will be awarded in March 2023.

The award will be made to the author of the essay that makes the most exciting original contribution to the relevant field of scholarship and is best-crafted in terms of organisation, style and presentation. By submitting the essay, the candidates agree that if their essay is awarded the Prize, they grant the Wilberforce Institute a non-exclusive licence to publish it online or in any other format that it sees fit. The winning essay will be published on the website of the Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull, and the Institute may, at its discretion, choose to submit the essay for publication in a physical or online journal or as part of a collated series of prize-winning essays connected to the award.

Wilberforce Institute Webinar: Indigenous Slavery in the Atlantic World

Thursday March 31, 2022

4PM-5.30PM BST

On Thursday March 31 we will welcome four speakers to talk about Indigenous slavery in the Atlantic world. The presenters are Sandi Brewster-Walker, Executive Director and Government Affairs Officer for the Montaukett Indian Nation; Linford D. Fisher, Associate Professor at Brown University; Rebecca Goetz, Associate Professor at New York University; and Brooke Newman, Associate Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. The webinar will consider a number of aspects of Indigenous enslavement in the Atlantic world, from a digital database project known as the North Fork People of Color, 1641-1827, to Indigenous freedom suits, to the unfree labor of Indigenous children, and the case of ‘Polly Indian’, who attempted to obtain freedom for both herself and her enslaved daughters on the basis of Native maternal ancestry.

To register for this event, please click here: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/5346536240171086349 After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

The issue of Indigenous slavery was overshadowed in Atlantic scholarship for many years by its African counterpart. But such slavery was ubiquitous in the Americas and in the Atlantic World. For native people, the risk of enslavement was constant, and all the major European colonial powers played a role in this enslavement.  And while Indigenous slavery varied in terms of its forms and its impact, it not only shaped the colonial world, but continues to affect people in the present.

Our speakers have provided a title and abstract below, but a brief introduction to them, their individual interests, and the theme of their talk is given here.  Sandi Brewster-Walker, a descendant of the Montaukett Indians, as well as their Executive Director and Government Affairs Officer, has been writing poetry, fiction, and non-fiction works since her teenage years; she published her first book in 2007.  She will talk about a digital database project known as the North Fork People of Color, 1641-1827, that brings together datasets relating to the first workforce of the East End of Long Island.

Professor Linford D. Fisher’s research and teaching relate primarily to the cultural and religious history of colonial America and the Atlantic world, including Native Americans, religion, material culture, and Indian and African slavery and servitude. In this talk he will present a series of Indigenous freedom suits in British Honduras Belize, in the 1810s and 1820s.

Professor Rebecca Goetz’s areas of interest include the histories of religion, race and slavery, and colonialism and empire in the Atlantic World and Indigenous North America. In this webinar she offers another view of enslaved Native People in the archive, focusing down on Indigenous testimonies from the 1570s.

Finally Professor Brooke Newman is a historian of early modern Britain and the British Atlantic, with special interests in the history of slavery, the abolition movement, and the British royal family. She will consider issues of gender, slavery, and kinship in the British Caribbean as revealed in a series of colonial commissions designed to gather information on the administration of justice in Britain’s West Indian territories, and increase Crown oversight of colonial law.

Titles and abstracts

Presenter: Sandi Brewster-Walker, Executive Director and Government Affairs Officer, Montaukett Indian Nation montaukett.executive.director@gmail.com

  • Title: Unfree Labor of Indigenous Children on Long Island
  • Abstract: North Fork People of Color, 1641-1827 is a digital database project bringing together datasets, which humanize the enslaved, indentured, freed, and free people that became the first workforce of the East End of Long Island. This presentation will discuss the journey and case of the eight-year-old indigenous girl Sarah, the daughter of Dorkas, both born free. Sarah was sold in 1689 by James Pearsall of Southold to John Parker, of Southampton to become his property for life.  In 1711, Sarah petitioned the Colonial Governor of New York, Robert Hunter.

Presenter: Linford D. Fisher, Associate Professor, Brown University
Linford_Fisher@brown.edu
 

  • Title: Resisting Race Shifting in Indigenous Freedom Suits
  • Abstract: All too often in colonial archives, colonists and administrators minimized or obscured the identity of Indigenous people in an effort to justify their enslavement. Indigenous people, when they were aware of it, resisted this race shifting. This presentation will draw on a few examples, including especially a series of Indigenous freedom suits in British Honduras Belize, in the 1810s and 1820s. 

Presenter: Rebecca Goetz, Associate Professor, New York University rag11@nyu.edu

  • Title: Enslaved Native People in the Archive
  • Abstract: The Archivo General de Indias, Spain’s archive of its colonial activities, was formed ostensibly to refute the “Black Legend” of Spanish cruelty towards Indigenous people. Yet contained within it are the testimonies of enslaved Native people, which often describe in excruciating detail the violence of Spanish slaving and slaveholding. This short discussion of Indigenous testimonies from the 1570s examines possible methodological approaches to slavery and this archive.

Presenter: Brooke Newman, Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University bnewman@vcu.edu

  • Title: ‘My Mother was an Indian’: Gender, Slavery, and Kinship in the British Caribbean
  • Abstract: Beginning in the 1820s, the British imperial government launched a series of colonial commissions of inquiry to gather information on the administration of justice in Britain’s West Indian territories and to increase Crown oversight over colonial law. The commissioners also rendered judgement on the contested legal status of imperial subjects—including enslaved people. This brief discussion focuses on the case of an enslaved woman in Tobago named Polly, also known as “Polly Indian,” who attempted to obtain freedom for both herself and her enslaved daughters on the basis of Native maternal ancestry. Polly’s case offers insight not only into the tactics adopted by enslaved men and women to negotiate for freedom during an era of imperial intervention in the legislative process of self-governing slave colonies but also the extent to which enslavers profited from the confusion surrounding Indian identity.
American Indian Slave Halter. Eighteenth Century, Great Lakes Region. Colonial Williamsburg Collection, 1996-816. Courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. At https://uncpressblog.com/2012/07/25/excerpt-bonds-of-alliance-by-brett-rushforth/ds1999-49/

Enjoying a month as a virtual Folger Fellow

Dr Judith Spicksley

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

judith.spicksley@hull.ac.uk

In January 2022 I finally managed to take up a virtual Folger Fellowship, and enjoy a month long virtual ‘visit’ to the Folger Library in Washington DC. My original plan had been to hold the fellowship in August 2021, but I contracted Covid-19 at the end of July, and had to take a month’s sick leave to recuperate. The Folger were happy to reschedule, as long as I could arrange it within the 2021-22 fellowship year. Given work commitments, and Institute events, I decided to reschedule for January 2022, when I would have the time to explore their collections.

Folger Library, Washington DC. Image at https://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/DC-01-CH15

The Folger Library Fellowships are a well-established and much sought after part of the academic ‘scene’, and are usually held onsite at the home of the Folger Library on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Library was established ‘as a gift to the American people’ in 1932 by the industrialist Henry Folger and his wife Emily, with the original design for the building being drawn by the architect Paul Philippe Cret, the French born industrial designer from Philadelphia. Numbering 82, the Library’s collection of Shakespeare’s First Folio is the world’s largest: published in 1623, the Folio included plays that up until that point had never appeared in print, including As You Like ItJulius CaesarMacbeth, and The Tempest.

The Folger Shakespeare Folio. Image at: https://www.folger.edu/shakespeare/first-folio

The Library is dedicated to the study of Shakespeare, his works, and the society he lived in. The founding collection consisted of rare books and manuscripts as well as more recent writings, art, and ephemera related to Shakespeare and the English drama of his age. It included prints, photographs, playbills, promptbooks, paintings, and reference books of many kinds.

But from the start, Henry and Emily Folger understood that neither Shakespeare nor the English drama of his age could be studied in isolation. The Library’s holdings were augmented to include numerous items bearing on Renaissance English culture and civilization as well as materials from continental Europe that influenced or reflected English thought and values. Over the years the field of acquisition has broadened further, to include materials on English culture into the first quarter of the eighteenth century.

Fellowships have been offered to support research and writing at the Library since 1935. Usually held onsite, the initiation of a major building renovation project in 2020 – to expand public space, improve accessibility, and enhance the experience for all visitors – encouraged the Library to consider offering virtual fellowships for research and writing whilst the Reading Room was closed for renovation.

Folger Library Reading Room. Image by David Reeve at https://www.folger.edu/reading-room-tour

Included in the Library’s collections are a number of electronic resources, some of which are freely available. This includes the Folger Shakespeare, where you can explore all Shakespeare’s plays, poems and sonnets online, read plot synopses and brief textual histories, and see selected images from the Library’s impressive collection. Usefully there is a concordance for searching across all Shakespeare’s works for specific words, names or places for example, or any other term you might be interested in. I, for example, was keen to examine all the contexts in which the terms ‘slave’ and/or ‘slavery’ appeared.

Additional electronic resources are available by subscription to registered users of the Folger. These are normally only accessible onsite at the Library, but a big part of the attraction of the virtual fellowship was the opportunity to access all these resources from my desktop here in the UK. I enjoyed four lovely weeks of largely uninterrupted research mining data related to my topic: the language of slavery in early modern England, and more especially as it appeared in the works of Shakespeare.

Folger Fellows usually get to spend a month in Washington where they can explore the Library (and the capital!) and meet and talk with other Folger Fellows. This year there are nearly forty, and the breadth of their interests is quite staggering. As things turned out, the global impact of Covid-19 would have made travel to Washington difficult at best, so on balance I got a great deal – a month away from Institute duties, access to all the Library’s digital resources, individual online support from the Folger librarian, and an introduction to a new community of scholars, coordinated by the fellowship programme assistant via Slack, the virtual communication platform.

Aside from the missed opportunities associated with a visit to one of America’s leading cultural gems, my only disappointment was not having enough time to explore the vast amount of material in the Folger collections. A month flew by in no time! However, I can recommend the experience without hesitation. I would like to thank everyone at the Folger for their help and support, and I am hugely grateful to them for giving me this opportunity. If your research is in this area, and you are interested, why don’t you think about applying for a fellowship? This year’s competition (again for virtual fellowships) closed in mid-January, but the Folger has big plans in the works for their fellowships when the Folger reopens. You can subscribe to their Research Bulletin if you would like to keep informed.

Recovering enslaved lives in nineteenth-century British Guiana: reading sources ‘below the waterline’

Frederick Bricknell

PhD Student, Water Cultures Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull                                                        

f.j.bricknell-2021@hull.ac.uk

@fjbricknell

My PhD research focuses on the relationship between plantation slavery, indentured labour and water – both salt and fresh – in nineteenth-century British Guiana. It is a joint project between the Wilberforce Institute and the Centre for Water Cultures at the University of Hull’s Energy and Environment Institute, a new doctoral programme which seeks to shed light on the vital relationships between human communities and water both throughout history and in the present day.

Since embarking on my research in September 2021, I have found that water permeates many different kinds of historical source but rarely becomes their central subject. Its trace must often be found in the margins of records outwardly concerned with something different, and it frequently acts as a kind of foundation that conditions the actions and relationships of the people whose lives I am studying. There are two reasons why nineteenth-century British Guiana offers such a fertile ground for this sort of analysis: its great abundance of water, and its unusually rich set of archival records. Central to this documentation is the cache of records from the Office of the Fiscal, an institution founded by the initial Dutch colonists which persisted under British rule after the three colonies which comprised British Guiana – Demerara, Berbice and Essequibo – were captured in 1796.

Detail from A Map of Part of Dutch Guyana; Containing the Colonies of Essequebo, Demerary & Berbice, in which are Described all the Lands Granted under the Batavian Government. Surveyed in 1798, and 1802, by Major von Bouchenroeder, with Additions (London: William Faden, 1804). The Atlantic Ocean lies at the top edge of the image, with the River Berbice winding down from the coast in the centre. New Amsterdam, the capital of Berbice where the Fiscal was based, is indicated by a square. Prospect and Vrouw Johanna plantations are respectively indicated by a triangle and a circle.

The Fiscal was the second-ranking official in the colony after the lieutenant-governor, and heard the complaints free and enslaved inhabitants of the colony brought against one another in a court convened for the purpose in the capital. A few complaints of serious crimes like robbery or murder were brought by white planters and managers, but the overwhelming majority were civil complaints brought by the enslaved against their owners and overseers. These records are not unmediated: the speech of the enslaved was clearly edited by the clerk who transcribed it, in order to fit a preconceived template of appropriate register for the courtroom setting. Many cases involved slaves who primarily communicated using Dutch Creole, in which case a court-appointed translator further influenced the import of their words. Such manipulations of oral evidence were conducted in real time and most changes appear aimed at increasing legibility. Some entries seem hurried, with grammatical inconsistencies suggesting that the clerk was struggling to keep up with the pace of the exchange taking place before him. Meaning was doubtless somewhat altered by such refraction, but the intended message of the enslaved speaker still shines through in most cases. Most importantly for the nature of my research, these records are filled with incidental information about the lives of complainants and witnesses which allow us access to aspects of everyday life in nineteenth-century British Guiana which were not deemed consequential enough to record elsewhere.

An especially revealing example of this can be found through reading two Fiscal cases from Berbice in the autumn of 1824. Guyana, which became independent from Britain in 1966, experiences a second dry season in between its two annual wet seasons (the first stretching from May to August and the second from December to January), and in October and November 1824 the lack of rainfall brought on a drought. The labour regime imposed by managers and drivers upon the enslaved was backbreaking and violent in ideal climatic conditions, and the additional burden required to shepherd the sugar canes through the drought fell entirely upon the shoulders of the enslaved. Managers would brook no excuse for a reduction in output, as their usually distant absentee employers were not shy of replacing overseers they felt were not maximising the ‘efficiency’ of their estates. In turn, enslaved drivers who were responsible for maintaining the punishing pace of work risked losing their positions if the manager felt that they were no longer extracting the maximum value of labour from other enslaved people. This incentivised an intensification of the already brutal workload and system of punishments.

On 20 October 1824, a deputation of ten enslaved people from Prospect plantation, whose names were Vaness, Arance, Rodger, Secunda, Cook, Tambour, Titus, Frederick, Joe and Martin, showed the Fiscal’s investigators around the estate and complained of the harsh new workload imposed over the preceding few weeks. Their main grievance was that, in addition to novel tasks imposed by the estate’s new owners to combat the drought such as deepening irrigation trenches to draw in more water and spending more time watering the young cane due to be harvested in the spring, they were still expected to work until nearly midnight carrying timber from the canalside to the engine house to feed the furnaces. The estate manager, one J. Paterson, responded by claiming that the complainants were particularly resentful because ‘some are punt men and others fire men’, meaning slaves with respective responsibility for plying the rivers and canals in barges or maintaining the furnaces for which the timber was destined. In an all-too-common outcome the Fiscal sided with the testimony of the manager and declared sanctimoniously that the new tasks were a ‘necessity … without which the manufactory of sugar cannot be effected’; evidently he gave no thought at all to the fact that the material welfare of the enslaved people forced to cultivate the sugar may also be important to the process (The National Archives, CO 116/140, ii, ff. 16-29).

Just over two weeks later, on Friday, 5 November 1824 Piet, an enslaved carpenter on Vrouw Johanna coffee plantation, appeared before the Fiscal in New Amsterdam to protest an unfair flogging for allegedly having incompetently repaired the water mill on the estate. The mill would not grind the recently-harvested coffee, and Piet was punished for this in spite of his protestations that the trenches for feeding water toward the mill were completely dry. When questioned about this, the ‘part proprietor’ of the plantation, C. Favre, claimed that there was plentiful water, and that Piet was lying. Backed up by the driver who depended on him for his continued higher status, Favre did not have to try very hard to convince the Fiscal of his version of events (The National Archives, CO 116/140, ii, ff. 31-33).

This wrought-iron Christianburg Waterwheel in Linden, Guyana, was constructed in 1855 to power a sawmill. The waterwheel which powered the coffee mill on Vrouw Johanna plantation would have been smaller and almost certainly constructed from wood (image source: https://tourismguyana.gy/christianburg-waterwheel/)

As is often the case with complaints brought before British Guiana’s fiscals, both matters were dismissed out of hand. While the Fiscal’s relationship with the plantocracy was sometimes tense – any planter whose slave complained was automatically fined, and until 1816 the Fiscal was entitled to keep a proportion – the Fiscal was nonetheless a central part of the white supremacist regime. Like many of his forerunners and successors Berbice’s incumbent fiscal since 1819, M.S. Bennett, owned several estates and shared the prejudices of his peers. Complaints were declared to be spurious far more often than they were upheld, and the Fiscal regularly sentenced complainants to further brutal punishments. The man identified by the Prospect manager as the ringleader, Vaness, received 45 lashes for insubordination, while Piet the carpenter was sentenced to 37.

The examples I have described reveal the ways in which ecological disturbance of the plantation regime could exacerbate existing tensions. After all, unfair punishment and overwork, along with insufficient food, are some of the most frequent subjects of court proceedings in the colony and drought, combined with the vicious incentive structures created by the plantation economy, meant that the lives of the enslaved materially worsened in all three areas. The drought is not explicitly mentioned in either of these cases, and only passingly alluded to in a third which mentions ‘the great scarcity of grass owing to the heavy dry season’ (The National Archives, CO 116/140, ii, f. 51). Instead, it is submerged out of sight. It is only by reading these sources ‘below the waterline’ that the power of water to motivate  so many diverse aspects of life in nineteenth-century British Guiana becomes clear.

Slaves in the Asylum System

Jeff Morgan

Honorary Research Fellow

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull.

jeffmorgan17@hotmail.com

Jeff Morgan, one of our newest Honorary Research Fellows, is a Trustee of the City of Sanctuary Movement and former Medical Officer to Hull University. In this blog he offers his thoughts on attitudes to asylum in Britain.  

It has often been claimed that Britain has a ‘proud historical record’ of welcoming refugees. There are instances when such a boast is justified. It is possible, though, to lift the veil of patriotic smugness to reveal a rather different reality. Thus, it is not too great a surprise that current attitudes across the UK to those seeking sanctuary are found to be nuanced.

In the light of conflicting beliefs, consequent legislative controls and media responses, I contend that the lot of those seeking asylum here now fulfils many of the criteria defining ‘modern slavery’.

As far back as 1517, angry Londoners rose up against refugees lodged around St Pauls, where they had sought a new chance in life. The Evil May Day Riot of that Spring ended with scores beaten and burned out of their homes by over a thousand unemployed apprentices. The fiery preaching of a Dr Bell had lit the fuse. Claiming that foreigners ‘eat the bread from poor fatherless children’, he beseeched all Englishmen ‘to cherish and defend themselves, and to hurt and grieve aliens.’  

Evil May Day Riots in Cheapside, London, in 1517

In the seventeenth century, King William III floated the idea of free naturalisation for refugees. Sir John Knight, MP for Bristol, thereupon declared: ‘Let us first kick the Bill out of The House – then the foreigners out of the Kingdom!’ Mr Speaker did order this particularly xenophobic speech burnt, while its prime victims, the industrious Huguenots, mostly went on to prosper in England. Nevertheless, the English nursed mixed feelings, some offering a genuine welcome to the incomers while others harboured deep resentment.

There are also numerous twentieth century examples in which the attitudes of the British can be called to account. While Britain held the Palestine Mandate (1920-1948) the entry of Jewish refugees into ‘The Holy Land’ was fiercely restricted by our maritime patrols and British agents based in Greek and Italian ports. Measures intensified once war broke out and the flow of persecuted Jews fleeing Europe swelled.  A confidential memo prepared by the Foreign Office & Colonial Office in January of 1940 reveals the objective then at hand ‘As it is obviously impossible to touch the main source of the traffic which is in German territory, the objective of the countermeasures must be to prevent the transit and embarkation of parties of Jews in countries bordering on Germany.’(D. Scott Fitzgerald, Refuge Beyond Reach, 2019, pp 25-32)

In 1951, in the wake of the enormous wartime displacements, Britain signed the UN Refugee Convention. Its core principle was ‘non-refoulement’. We committed never to return an asylum-seeking individual to a country where he/she has a well-founded fear of persecution.Yet years of involvement in the lives of very many sanctuary seekers have led me to a personal perception of the thrust of our nation’s Asylum System. In the effort to prove that applicants’ well-founded fears have no basis, it would seem that subtle means are employed to configure them as ‘lacking in credibility’. Such allegations are frequently based upon matters unconnected with, or only indirectly related to, the main incidents of persecution suffered in their homelands.

UN Refugee Convention, 1951

Asylum seekers are not allowed to work. When a decision is long delayed, however, they can apply for a ‘Shortage Occupation’. For the jobs so listed, (famously including ‘Male Ballet Dancer’, ‘Senior Nuclear Waste Engineer’ and ‘Paediatric Neuro-Radiologist’), they are invariably unqualified. Refused leave-to-remain, they usually fall into destitution and homelessness. Despite the modest payments under Sections 98, 95 and 4, they exist in a state of legal, social, occupational and psychological limbo. ‘Contingency’ and ‘Dispersal’ accommodation can be shifted at short notice to anywhere in the country. A substantial drifting population of hopeless, rootless and unintegrated victims awaits final decisions on status, detention or deportation. Such decisions can sometimes take fifteen years to resolve.

Meantime, individuals lack agency over so many freedoms taken for granted by the rest of us. Their destinies lie totally in the gift of the Home Office. They can choose neither their billets nor control their daily lives. They endure the ‘unfree labour’ of forced unemployment. They are effectively denied access to education, banking and elements of state healthcare. Their dignity is eroded by institutional disbelief in their accounts of maltreatment, lack of appreciation for their former social or professional positions, achievements, skills and qualities and by the politically-generated ‘hostile environment’.

The proposed Nationality & Borders Bill will tighten the grip of that hostile environment. It will add criminality to the burden borne by those who enter by non-legal routes. It will demand of terrified new arrivals the full disclosure to British officials of every shameful detail of their torture, because  delayed revelations will become inadmissible. For the entire period while their claims are determined they will be confined to substantial ‘Accommodation Centres’, excluding any understanding of British culture or integration into local communities otherwise willing to welcome them.

Furthermore, I believe that those seeking sanctuary in this country are potentially at risk of exploitation and abuse by those who would take them into enforced servitude ‘under the radar’.

It is my contention that those seeking sanctuary in this country have much in common with the slaves of previous centuries. Displaced far from their homelands and robbed of any agency over their present or future existence, they are rigorously controlled over periods of unpredictable duration by all-powerful and uncompassionate authorities.

A silver lining: How Covid forced me to delve deeper into the archives

Saphia Fleury

PhD Student, Falling Through the Net Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

S.Fleury-2019@hull.ac.uk

Saphia Fleury reflects on the changes that had to be made to her research methodology as a result of Covid-19 and the questions this raised.

The ink was barely dry on my ethics approval form when the first Covid lockdown was announced. Overnight, my research plan – which involved extensive travel and face-to-face interviews with migrants and practitioners – became about as feasible as a voyage to the Moon. The focus of my investigation was the experiences of children during and after the volcanic eruptions on Montserrat. There was so little information about this period in the archives that conducting interviews with former evacuees had appeared to be the only possible methodology.

Covid forced me to turn the problem on its head and ask why the archival information was so scant. Montserrat is a British Overseas Territory, and its volcanic catastrophe took place less than 30 years ago. Around half of the island’s population had migrated to the UK in the later 1990s – up to 5,000 people. Why, then, did British repositories hold so little evidence as to the nature and impacts of the disaster? I am not a historian by training, but my background is in investigative human rights research. I approached the problem as a detective would, casting the net wide to gather all the extant evidence of what happened on the island during the volcanic crisis. This involved extensive scanning of diverse sources including Hansard, newspaper archives, scientific records, government evaluations and Select Committee hearings, MPs’ correspondence, orders of service for memorial events, children’s poetry, and even self-published autobiographical accounts of the disaster.

I became suspicious when my efforts were frequently thwarted. Key records were missing, or responses to Freedom of Information requests suggested they had never existed to begin with. Even lists of the names of the dead were inconsistent; sources could not agree on who had perished in the disaster. It struck me that this confusion over the identities of the deceased would be unthinkable had the crisis taken place on the British mainland. Following the Kings Cross fire in London in 1987, the British Transport Police spent 16 years conducting painstaking investigations to uncover the identity of the 31st victim. By contrast, the lack of a definitive record of events surrounding the deaths on Montserrat symbolised, for me, a lack of executive interest in the victims of the catastrophe, both living and dead.

This feeling was borne out by my unsuccessful requests to government ministries for official statistics on the numbers evacuated. A former UK Government employee involved in the emergency response on Montserrat helped me to explain the gaps in the statistics, stating that s/he had personally recorded the change in population using information from landing and departure forms:

“From this data it was possible to track the downward movement of the resident population and also small upward trends when Montserratians returned in order to enlist on the government Help schemes for migration to other islands or UK. Nobody requested this information and indeed no-one acknowledged it either. It was distributed to the Governor’s Office, Chief Minister, DFID [UK Department for International Development] and [my] immediate boss in London”.  (Anonymous interviewee)

In spite of their efforts, the information recorded by this individual did not appear in any of the official documents I uncovered. I was forced to conclude that poor record-keeping, including failure to record reported figures, stemmed from a combination of disinterest, ineptitude, and possibly also an attempt to hide certain facts from examination, despite, in some cases, the best efforts of civil servants to keep records. A serious charge, yes, but one upheld by further frustrating attempts to uncover the facts. Instead, I pieced together a picture of the evacuation from snippets of information in around a dozen disparate sources. To this day, it appears that nobody knows the true number, or ultimate destinations, of those evacuated.

Image: Island of Montserrat

Crucial to my research was an Evaluation Report commissioned by DFID in 1999 to evaluate the UK Government’s response to the crisis. Volume I of the Evaluation Report is available online. Volume II, however, was redacted from the online version; only its contents page remained visible. I made three separate requests to DFID, the Home Office, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the redacted information. On each occasion I was told that Volume II was not available. I traced a retired civil servant who was listed in Volume I as having been interviewed for the evaluation. They provided an ISBN number for Volume II, from a photocopy of the back cover of the report in their personal files. This allowed me to call up a copy from the British Library’s Boston Spa repository. It was unredacted. A query to the British Library research service confirmed that I was the first person to request the item, meaning it had not been previously viewed by researchers. It remains unclear to me why Volume II was redacted from the publicly available Evaluation Report, or why the government departments mentioned were unable or unwilling to provide a copy. Interestingly though, the findings of Volume II on the official response were highly critical of both the UK and Montserrat governments. Is this why they were withheld? Or was the omission accidental?

A further piece in the puzzle, which took some eighteen months to trace, was the conclusions to the Coroner’s Inquest report into the volcano deaths. I made numerous requests through official channels to government departments and officials, both on Montserrat and in the UK, to access the full report. Most of these were completely ignored. I also contacted numerous individuals, including the former Premier, Governor and Coroner of Montserrat. None were able to track down a copy. The Coroner’s concluding remarks were eventually provided via a further FoI request to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), which took five months to fulfil while officials ‘reached a decision on where the balance of the public interest lies’. My attempts to access the report in its entirety, which reportedly runs to several hundred pages and includes lengthy evidence and witness testimony, has thus far proved futile. The former Coroner who conducted the Inquest expressed to me his surprise that the report was not publicly available, since: ‘one of the purposes of Inquests is to make recommendations to avoid untimely deaths in future [so] their conclusions are meant to be available to all to read’.

Additional records documenting the evacuation and resettlement of Montserratians, held at the National Archives and Bishopsgate Institute, were opened to the public following further requests which I made in 2021. They had previously been closed to scrutiny.

Image: National Archives, Kew, UK.

The unusual lengths to which I had to go to trace documents related to this study are indicative of the elusiveness of information relating to Montserrat and the volcanic crisis, which suggests at best a deprioritisation of Montserrat by the UK authorities, and at worst a deliberate cover-up of policy decisions towards Montserrat. More positively, the success I eventually had in tracing these records is due to the many helpful individuals who assisted me, both in the UK and Montserrat.

Bringing these varied sources together for the first time allows a new story to be told about the evacuation of Montserrat, one which has remained hidden for almost three decades. The voices of the evacuees are still largely excluded, making this an incomplete picture. Nevertheless, it is thanks to the restrictions imposed on my primary research by Covid that the public now has access to a broader range of materials to aid future investigations into a significant period in Montserrat’s – and Britain’s – history.

Facing Unpleasant Facts:  Pondering British Slave Trade Abolition

Professor David Richardson

Emeritus Professor and Former Director of the Wilberforce Institute

P.D.Richardson@hull.ac.uk

As his new book Principles and Agents: The British Slave Trade and Its Abolition is published, Professor David Richardson considers the power of ordinary people to effect social change.

In an essay published in 1946, the anti-imperialist George Orwell explained why he wrote. Orwell recognised egoism – the need ‘to be talked about’ or even ‘to be remembered after death’ – as a motivator of writing. He also claimed to have ‘a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts’, going on to point to historical impulse and political purpose as driving his literary endeavours. The impulse included a desire to uncover ‘true facts and store them up for the use of posterity’; the purpose, an ambition ‘to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after’ (George Orwell, Animal Farm and Selected Essays (Wordsworth Classics, Ware, Hertfordshire, 2021), 203, 205-6).  

Published a year after Animal Farm, his masterful attack on the wartime British ally Stalin who he saw as betraying the Russian Revolution, Orwell’s essay provided a philosophical rationale for other of his works, notably Nineteen Eighty-Four, published a year before his death in 1950 and which constituted a satire on the evils of totalitarianism and unrestrained power.  But his 1946 essay is relevant to writings on other historical questions concerning the use and abuse of such power, including British imperialism, to which Orwell often alluded, and, more specifically, the story of British abolitionism and transatlantic slavery, about which he appears to have written very little, if anything, yet from which his ancestors seemingly profited (Wikipedia.org). Interestingly, re-interpretations of abolitionism from Marxist or pseudo-Marxist perspectives began to appear at the time that Orwell was writing. They identified abolitionist impulses with wider revolutionary events in America, Britain, France, and Haiti, portraying them as appropriated or betrayed by motives other than the humanitarianism that informed earlier assessments of British slave trade abolition in 1807.  In such reformulations, policy decisions relating to British slaving and ultimately Caribbean slavery were driven by calculation of British economic self-interest, not morality, as the nation industrialised. Put another way, British antislavery was integral to a capitalist-driven ideological shift from mercantilism to laisser-faire during the Industrial Revolution.

Political interventions to end the slave trade and slavery were, however, not costless. In the British case, as I show in my book Principles and Agents: The British Slave Trade and its Abolition (Yale University Press, New Haven CT, 2022), the campaign against the slave trade occurred as British slaving was at its height and when its domination of the Atlantic slave trade was at its peak. The campaign lasted twenty years from 1787 to 1807. Driven primarily by moral values, it was resisted by powerful and well represented pro-slavery interests in Parliament that highlighted slavery’s net contribution to the British economy. Such claims find validation in some recent historical research (Klas Ronnback, ‘On the Economic Importance of the Slave Plantation Complex to the British Economy in the Eighteenth Century: A Value-Added Approach’, Journal of Global History, 13, no 3 (2018), 309-27; Ronnback, ‘Governance, Value-Added and Rents in Plantation Slavery-Based Value-Chains’, Slavery & Abolition, 42, no 1 (2021), 130-50). Unsurprisingly, dire economic consequences were predicted for Britain and its slave colonies should the longstanding and legally sanctioned trade in enslaved Africans be abolished. In the end it was not economics but national security issues in the middle of a titanic power struggle with Napoleonic France, and that included the security of the West Indian slave colonies following the slave-led Haitian revolution of 1791-1804, that accounted for the passage of the slave trade abolition act of 1807.  The timing of that act owed more to the geopolitics of war and to fears of slave rebellion than the advancement of capitalist interests.

As my book shows, the humanitarian concerns that first motivated British abolitionism from the 1780s had long roots, developing in parallel with growth of British slaving activity from the 1640s onward. They became enmeshed, in turn, in continuing debates about the nature and political ramifications of Britain’s emerging American empire. The issues were aired in scientific, religious, and philosophical writings of the later seventeenth century.  And they evolved in intellectual content, as well as in social reach and intensity, in the century before the age of revolutions that began with the War of American Independence in 1776-1783.  The process embodied for some a profound disquiet, even anger, at the nation’s involvement in enslaving Africans as fellow humans in pursuit of imperial goals. For a nation imbued with a sense of its own people’s personal freedom as well as emergent notions of empathy or benevolence, trafficking enslaved Africans for economic gain became an unpleasant, and for increasing numbers, unacceptable, facet of British empire building. Such ideas surfaced in both imaginative literature and the press as well as in religious tracts and philosophical treatises, some of which professed incompatibilities between human trafficking and slavery and notions of human progress and civilised society. Underneath the rising scale of British slaving activity therefore there existed simmering ideological tensions at home over it. These have been largely neglected or, when mentioned, usually seen as of marginal importance before the 1780s.

Those tensions, however, became politicised in the 1770s during the deepening crisis between Britain and its mainland North American colonies. They prompted David Hartley, MP for Kingston upon Hull, to propose a motion in the House of Commons in 1776 condemning the slave trade on grounds of its inhumanity. That was thirteen years before the Hull-born William Wilberforce, MP for Yorkshire and designated parliamentary leader of the formal anti-slave trade campaign, addressed the House on the issue in May 1789. Wilberforce’s speech, eulogised by Melvyn Bragg (Twelve Books that Changed the World (Sceptre, 2007)), coincided with a huge eruption of extra-parliamentary outrage against the trade in 1787-1792 that forced Parliament first seriously to address and then ultimately to resolve the domestic ideological conflict surrounding it.  If, as noted, security issues dictated the timing of the 1807 abolition act, it was publicly articulated humanitarian concerns over British slaving that inspired, underwrote and drove the anti-slave trade campaign that provoked parliamentary action.  

“Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, 1807,” TPL Virtual Exhibits, accessed January 31, 2022, http://omeka.tplcs.ca/virtual-exhibits/items/show/143.

As a writer and journalist, George Orwell would doubtless have admired the many contributions of eighteenth-century British imaginative literature and newspapers that encouraged people to campaign openly for ‘progressive’ social change such as slave trade abolition in early industrialising Britain. That campaign was a prime example of an emergent mass politics in Britain during the early years of industrialisation and the rapid urbanisation of British society to which it gave rise. It involved a mobilisation of public opinion on an unprecedented scale and one unmatched by any other anti-slave trade movement in history.  The movement continued beyond 1807 in looking to suppress slaving activities by other nations.  Support for both came from towns and the countryside; it transcended class, gender, religious affiliation, and race. And, while leadership of the movement in Parliament was ultimately critical in delivering formal abolition in 1807, it was the nationwide scale of petitioning against the trade in 1787-1792 and the maintenance of that public support for abolition thereafter that put outlawing the slave trade on the national political agenda and ensured that it remained there even as Britain became embroiled in war with revolutionary and later Napoleonic France in 1793-1815.  That support was acknowledged a month before the abolition bill passed in March 1807 when a Jamaican sugar planter resident in Ayrshire, Scotland, observed that ‘the voice of the Country was very much in favour of this Prohibition’ (Alex Renton, Blood Legacy, Canongate Books Inc., Edinburgh, 2021, p. 208). 

Public support for abolition extended far beyond the campaign’s political leaders that most historical studies focus on. It included hundreds of thousands of people, the mobilisation of whose feelings played a decisive part in defeating the Western world’s largest and most resilient slave trafficking regime in its prime. It was a truly remarkable and historic movement, underscoring the power of ordinary people to effect social change.  As an advocate of democratic socialism, George Orwell would probably have rejoiced in that.  Within it, perhaps, may also be found inspiration, even lessons, for those concerned by and committed to overcoming today’s unpleasant facts of life such as contemporary slavery, racial injustice, and the climate emergency.  

ECHOES Q&A

Professor John Oldfield

Emeritus Professor and Former Director of the Wilberforce Institute

John.Oldfield@hull.ac.uk

Now the ECHOES project has formerly ended, Professor John Oldfield reflects on the aims and objectives of the project, its relevance, and its impact.

What was the inspiration for this project and what did you set out to achieve?

The inspiration for this project was what the team regarded as the often problematic ‘silencing’ of Europe’s colonial history and heritage – problematic not only for Europe’s global status and reputation but also for those marginalized by these historical processes, many of them migrants from Europe’s former colonies. By confronting this entangled history, we set out to ‘Europeanize’ difficult colonial heritage. While there are significant barriers to the creation of a shared European narrative of our colonial past, some of them political or related to different interpretations of the colonial past across member states, we believe that we need to arrive at a more equitable representation of colonial legacies across Europe.

What are the challenges/dilemmas that colonialism presents to official narratives of European heritage?

Colonialism was not an event or moment in time but a process involving the often-brutal subjugation of others – a process that created an unbridgeable gulf between colonizer and colonized. Transatlantic slavery, the treatment of indigenous peoples, the imposition of Eurocentric legal and constitutional norms on colonial subjects; all of these are examples of historical processes that were inseparable from ideas of Eurocentric power and racial (and cultural) superiority. Many of these ideas and attitudes live on – as echoes of the colonial past. The recent COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, exposed deep economic inequalities. It has also exposed worrying Eurocentric tendencies, not least when it comes to the treatment of the pandemic – as witnessed by the suggestion by two French doctors that Africa should be used as a testing ground for the efficacy of vaccines. While this was an isolated incident, research and thinking in this area have led to accusations that the Global South has been all but absent in scientific and/or medical collaborations related to COVID.

Or consider the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, which triggered massive protests across the Global South and beyond, focused on anti-racist and social justice messages, most of them embracing the rhetoric and slogans of #BlackLivesMatter. Here again, these protests – pulling down statues associated with European colonialism (Edward Colston in Bristol; King Leopold II in Belgium; Cecil Rhodes in Cape Town and Oxford), calls for the repatriation of colonial objects, renaming roads and buildings, etc. – were fueled not only by the ongoing presence of monuments of a colonial nature in public spaces across Europe but also by the marginalization and structural racism encountered by non-white communities living in Europe’s cities, many of them long-term victims of prejudice and discrimination.

The empty pedestal of the statue of Edward Colton in Bristol, the day after protesters felled the statue and rolled it into the harbour. The ground is covered with Black Lives Matter placards. Caitlin Hobbes, 7 June 2020 at https://twitter.com/Chobbs7/status/1269682491465576448/photo/1

How did you go about achieving your objectives – and what did the project consist of in practice? Any approaches that made this project unique?

Conceptually, our starting point was the notion of colonial heritage – what does it mean? What does it stand for? We understand heritage not as a ‘thing’ – a specific set of (white) achievements — but rather as a discourse: a way of thinking and writing about objects and phenomena that constitutes them as ‘heritage’ through formal and informal acts of recognition. So, in effect, we are talking about a much more expansive and inclusive notion of heritage, both in terms of objects and actors.

To this end, we looked in-depth at a number of different contemporary heritage discourses that aspire to restore, renew, rediscover and acknowledge the multiplicity of lives, experiences, culture and knowledge of formerly colonized peoples. Museums, for instance – particularly those like Amsterdam Museum and the Museum of Warsaw, two of our case studies – have been at the forefront of efforts to decolonize their collections, looking afresh at how they interpret familiar objects and/or imagining new ways of telling familiar stories. In the same way, many contemporary artists – particularly those from non-white backgrounds – have interrogated the colonial past in new and exciting ways, offering insights that act as a form of reconciliation and healing.

Citizens groups, too, have challenged official narratives of European heritage, whether through walking tours, performances or cultural events designed to acknowledge different/difficult ‘pasts’. Again, we mapped a lot of this activity in detail, from Bristol to Marseille, from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, from Cape Town to Amsterdam. Indeed, one of our objectives was to give voice to these groups, while at the same time documenting the ways in which their varied interventions have helped to advance our understanding of contemporary heritage discourses. In this sense, our project was multi-vocal, deeply attuned to different types of knowledge, as well as different epistemologies.

What are the key lessons or approaches to emerge from this work?

While recognizing the importance of top-down initiatives, the ECHOES project emphasized the importance of grassroots movements and independent cultural actors – whether artists, curators or heritage practitioners. Such ‘mid-space actors’, we believe, bring with them a wealth of experience and knowledge that needs to be incorporated into heritage practices and treated on equal terms with other forms of knowledge. Our work also stresses the importance of intercultural ‘contact zones’, spaces where actors from different cultural backgrounds and with different resources and power engage with each other on equal terms. This necessarily involves ‘Europe’ opening up to and acknowledging the different modes of transculturation practices by marginalized groups and granting them far more agency. It also involves ‘active listening’, an approach to listening that is based on a genuine interest in the other’s perspective. Listening, we believe, is the primary characteristic of two-way communication. Who does the talking and who does the listening is key to this approach, as strengths and weaknesses are part of the positionalities of ALL diplomatic relations; not just in Global-North and Global South relations but in relations within the Global North and Global South. This applies as much to broader debates about cultural co-operation, as it does to the restitution of colonial objects, or the decolonization of museums and galleries.

In what fields might these results have an impact? Why, in the current context of globalization and regional tensions is this work so important?

We see our work having a major impact in a number of related fields, among them history and heritage, political science, museology and curatorship. We also set out to inform current debates around International Cultural Relations, which since 2016 has been the EU’s adopted policy framework, emphasizing (as of 2019) the importance of ‘co-operation with local stakeholders and civil society at all levels’. Our work supports this emphasis, hence the importance we attach to ‘contact zones’ and ‘active listening’ (see above). Indeed, we advocate a ‘new diplomacy’, a kind of reinvigoration of International Cultural Relations that renders the policy/programme fit for purpose. 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 into diplomatic activities and involving them in policy processes.

This work is important for the reasons outlined above. The so-called migrant crisis, COVID and #BlackLivesMatter have all energized debates — across and within Europe — about culture, heritage and Europe’s reckoning with its colonial past. We have also seen how polarized these debates have become; indeed, the use of the word ‘heritage’ itself often gives rise to suggestions that dominant white European cultures are under attack from non-white protesters and radicals. So far from being threatening, we believe that these debates provide an opportunity for Europe to rethink its relations to its colonial past. ECHOES, in sum, proposes that the history of colonialism needs to find its place in our contemporary narratives of Europe. Crucially, it needs to do so in ways which makes this difficult history a productive element in Europe’s and the EU’s engagement with the wider world, rather than an uncomfortable silence haunting its past, present and future.

What is the long-term legacy of the project?

We hope that the ECHOES project will not only shape academic and cultural debates surrounding Europe’s engagement with its colonial past but also have a decisive influence on shaping policy and practice, both within EU institutional activities and programmes. In addition, we hope that Europe and the EU will go further in advocating the acceptance of a multicultural Europe as a precondition for thinking in terms of intercultural relations.

Programme of Spring Lectures at the Wilberforce Institute, 2022

Dr Chloe Wilson, Lecturer in Law, Lincoln Law School and Tom Hammond, PhD student at the University of Hull

We have a packed programme of lectures for Spring 2022, and hope you will join us in our lovely building at 27 High Street, Hull, to hear what our speakers have to say.  A general overview of the programme is given below, and specific links for those who would like to stream online will be 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 please contact Beki Bloomfield (R.Bloomfield@hull.ac.uk). The full programme of events is also available on the ‘Event Programme’ tab.

We begin with our regular ‘What’s going on at the Wilberforce Institute’ spot on Thursday 10 February at 4pm. This year we have Dr Chloe Wilson, who submitted her thesis in February last year, and Tom Hammond (T.Hammond-2017@hull.ac.uk), who is in the final throes of his dissertation. Chloe’s research looked at the identification and treatment of human trafficking victims, while Tom has been examining surveillance, migration and identity in Brexit Britain.

In March we have three public lectures on offer.  On Thursday March 3 (4-5.30pm GMT) we are excited to welcome Dr Bruce Ragsdale, former director of the US Federal Judicial History Office, who is coming to talk to us about his recent book, Washington at the Plow: The Founding Farmer and the Question of Slavery. Dr Ragsdale will discuss how Washington’s management of enslaved agricultural labour expands the more familiar biography of the revolutionary general and first president.

On Thursday March 17 (4-5.30pm GMT) we are delighted to welcome back Dr Filipa Ribeiro da Silva, Senior Researcher at the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, who worked as a Post-doctoral Fellow at the Wilberforce Institute between 2009 and 2012. Her current research interests focus on the history of population, labour, migration and trade in Sub-Saharan Africa during the pre-colonial and colonial periods. She has also been involved in the translation of Inquisition materials, recently published as African Voices from the Inquisition.

On Thursday March 24 (4-5.30pm GMT) we are thrilled to welcome Dr Lucy Mayblin  (@LucyMayblin) Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Sheffield, who will be talking on the subject of ‘Criminal assistance: Understanding Crimes of Solidarity’. Dr Mayblin’s research focuses on asylum, human rights, policy-making, and the legacies of colonialism, and her latest book, with Joe Turner, is Migration Studies and Colonialism (2021). She was recently awarded the UK Philip Leverhulme Prize for her research achievements in the area of asylum and migration.

In April we have two talks. At the first, on Thursday April 7 (4-5.30pm BST), we are delighted to host one of our Honorary Fellows, Dr Sheryllynne Haggerty, who will talk to us on ‘Tales of the Enslaved in Jamaica, 1756’. This paper comes from a wider project based on a cache of letters sent from Jamaica to Britain that forms the basis of her forthcoming book.

At the second, on Thursday April 28 (4-5.30pm BST) we are thrilled that Professor Geraldine van Bueren QC, is coming to discuss ‘Class Discrimination and Children’s Rights’. Professor Van Bueren QC held the Chair of International Human Rights Law at Queen Mary University of London and is Visiting Fellow at Kellogg College, Oxford. She is a member of Doughty Street Chambers and was appointed an honorary Queen’s Counsel in recognition of her contributions to national and international law. 

Finally, we are excited to round off our programme of Spring Lectures with a talk on Thursday May 12 (4-5.30pm BST) by Dr Virginia Morrow, Visiting Professor at University College London. Dr Morrow will summarise 15 years of research findings on changing trends in children’s work from the Young Lives study, an international study of childhood poverty following the lives of 12,000 children in four countries (Ethiopia, India in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), Peru and Vietnam (www.younglives.org.uk).