On Windrush Day 2021 the Wilberforce Institute welcomes you, on behalf of partners across the City of Hull, to highlight Hull’s important migrant ties with the Caribbean at a free online event.
Chaired by Karen Okra, the panellists include Gifty Burrows (Founder of the Africans in Hull and East Yorkshire Project), Dr Nicholas Evans (Senior Lecturer in Diaspora at the University of Hull), and Catherine Ross and Lynda-Louise Burrell (Founders of Museumand, The National Caribbean Heritage Museum). Closing remarks will be provided by Councillor Aneesa Akbar, Portfolio Holder for Communities at Hull City Council.
This region’s links to the Caribbean are very strong. Planters from Hull and the surrounding region were among the earliest colonists settling Barbados in the first half of the seventeenth century; an early Governor of the Island emanated from Ryedale; Lincolnshire planter, Thomas Thistlewood, had a friend on Jamaica who came from Hull; and trade from the British West Indies arrived at the port of Hull from numerous islands including modern day Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, Haiti and St Kitts. More recently, during the Second World War thousands of RAF personnel from the Caribbean were based at nearby RAF Hunmanby.
It is therefore unsurprising that personal connections established over centuries encouraged people from the Caribbean to come and live, study, or work in our region after the Second World War to bolster Britain’s post-war labour shortages. It was a period often described as the Windrush Generation after the HMT Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex, on 22 June 1948, carrying passengers from the West Indies. Those coming to this region in the following decades included lawyer Sir Roy Marshall, who became the fourth Vice Chancellor of the University of Hull and the first black leader of any UK university; historian Sir Hilary Beckles, a triple graduate of the University of Hull and present Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies; and rugby captain Clive Sullivan, whose family originated in Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda.
The personal bond between both regions is the focus of a new £16,000 project funded by the UK Government’s Windrush Grant. Led by Hull City Council the partnership includes the University of Hull, Wilberforce House Museum, Hull Libraries, Hull Culture and Leisure Limited, Hull City Council, Museumand, The National Caribbean Heritage Museum and the Hull Afro Caribbean Association. It will draw upon the expertise of historians Professor Trevor Burnard and Dr Nicholas Evans from the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute.
To learn more about the ties the project seeks to highlight then please click on the link below to register for the webinar:
Dr Chloe Wilson, recently awarded her doctorate for her investigation of the specific experiences of victims of human trafficking in England, shares some of her key findings.
Considering the treatment of victims by organisations in the United Kingdom [UK], particularly in the immediate aftermath of their initial identification, is key to restoring the victim voice. The very nature of the trafficking experience means that victims ‘lose their voice’, from the moment they are trafficked, to their eventual release (if applicable). Broadly, a lost victim voice relates to the individual inability to express the harm caused by a crime, or a criminal. This may occur due to trauma, which can greatly impact victim confidence. A further consideration (alongside the victim voice) is the disposable nature of individual victims. This is a term coined by Kevin Bales: a disposable person is a new type of victim, targeted as a cheap, replaceable commodity. Both of these concepts are particularly interesting when looking at the ways in which victims interact with organisations in the UK when they have been identified. The whole process relies on a level of cooperation from a victim, without which they cannot progress through the system. A disposable victim with a lost voice may be hard to support as they are often hurt, confused and afraid. These considerations emerge from a fundamental issue: the way victims of human trafficking are treated by organisations in the UK.
Victims have varied experiences, which can be split into two categories:
Physical experiences, such as sexual or physical abuse, pregnancy, abortion, or illness.
Psychological experiences, which affect the victim’s mental state and wellbeing, such as stress, psychological torture, emotional abuse and manipulation.
These two areas are not independent of one another – research shows that there is a significant crossover from one to the other for many victims.
The victim journey itself includes a number of substantial milestones, such as initial contact with a trafficker, arrival in the UK or destination city and exploitation. In the latter stages of their journey, as victims come into contact with the UK authorities or charity services, it is the variability of their experience that is notable.
How are they treated?
As a victim or as an offender?
Do they receive help initially?
Is there immediate support available to them?
These considerations are directly linked to government frameworks, which are in place to offer support to victims and to aid practitioners. This should provide an indication of the victim’s on-going treatment and the way the authorities may be able to improve the victim experience, in turn helping their recovery and rehabilitation.
Many external factors contribute to the lost victim voice. Many victims who have been trafficked into the UK are transported from foreign countries, meaning they have been separated from their home, family and culture. Not only have they been exploited and abused in some way, they are also very alone in a foreign place. This is a traumatic experience for the trafficked victim – the loneliness and fear of being so far away from their home and their family. This isolation can often manifest as guilt, with the victims blaming themselves for what has happened. Many feel they could have avoided the situation or that they were wrong to have initially trusted their traffickers. These feelings can be exaggerated by the captors who are likely to reinforce this message, telling the victims that they are to blame and that their families are suffering because of them.
Moving away from the trauma victims experience whilst they are being trafficked, focusing on the initial contact between victim and first-responder, is key to improving the victim experience and empowering them to regain their lost voice. Working with organisations to improve their services and ensure victim treatment is at the forefront of their agenda is a critical first step. Reaching across the globe to consider alternative approaches to victim treatment can also provide insight into best practice. In 2012, Unicef conducted a study of Nordic responses to child trafficking, with particular focus on assisting victims within the destination country. The paper considered the practical issues faced by child victims travelling thousands of miles to a new country and a new culture. Unicef suggests ways in which the experience might be improved for young victims, such as providing budgets, setting up institutions and creating action plans. It acknowledged that the progress made across the United Nations, in aiding victims and ensuring they are not left unprotected, has been slow. In short, this can be attributed to a lack of cooperative working between the organisations that are involved.
My research identifies substantive links between the lost victim voice and a lack of cooperation between organisations, highlighting the need for a more joined-up approach to provide the best possible support for victims of human trafficking. Drawing links with care for children in the UK and the notorious Victoria Climbie Case allowed me to develop an ‘Every Victim Matters’ approach. This idea focuses on multi-agency cooperation through the use of a Modern Slavery Key Worker. It is suggested that increased communication and accountability from organisations, alongside a consistent point of contact for the victim, would substantially improve the victim experience. ‘Every Victim Matters’ would improve the treatment of victims, enhance the victim experience and empower the victim voice.
Co-sponsored by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, University of Pennsylvania and the Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull
50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PUBLICATION OF RICHARD S. DUNN’S SUGAR AND SLAVES: THE RISE OF THE PLANTER CLASS IN THE ENGLISH WEST INDIES, 1624-1713
The Wilberforce Institute is delighted to be co-hosting this major two-day workshop on Richard S. Dunn’s Sugar and Slaves with the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Established as the Philadelphia Center for Early American Studies in 1978, and renamed in honour of its benefactor Robert L. McNeil, Jr., in 1998, the McNeil Center facilitates scholarly inquiry into the histories and cultures of North America in the Atlantic world before 1850, with a particular but by no means exclusive emphasis on the mid-Atlantic region.
2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Dunn’s Sugar and Slaves, which has become one of the foundational books in the writing of Caribbean and Atlantic history. His highly evocative work opened up an entire field of study. Since its publication, historians have both deepened our understanding of subjects first developed in Dunn’s work and, inspired by his scholarship, have turned to new topics entirely.
The workshop will be based around pre-circulated papers, which will be forwarded to you soon after 7 June if you have registered. For the provisional programme see below.
For more information and to register for the workshop, please visit:
Please note that all times are Eastern Standard Time (UTC-5; BST-5)
10:00-10:15 AM Introduction and Welcome
Emma Hart and Daniel K. Richter, McNeil Center and University of Pennsylvania
10:15-10:30 AM Reflections on Sugar and Slaves, I: Hilary Beckles, University of the West Indies
10:30 AM-12:00 PM Session One The Environment: Chair: Trevor Burnard, Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull
Mary S. Draper, Midwestern State University “Winds, Lived Geographies, and Empire Building in the Seventeenth-Century British Caribbean” Justin Roberts, Dalhousie University “‘Corruption of the Air’: Disease and Climate Change in the Rise of English Caribbean Slavery” Jordan Smith, Widener University “‘The Native Produce of this Island’: Processes of Invention in Early Barbados”
12:00-1:00 PM Lunch Break
1:00-2:00 PM Session Two Other Contexts: Chair: Daniel K. Richter, McNeil Center and University of Pennsylvania
Peter C. Mancall, University of Southern California “The First Age of Revolution” Michiel van Groesen, Leiden University “The Anglo-Dutch Lake? Johannes de Laet and the Ideological Origins of the Dutch and English West Indies”
Tuesday 29 June 2021
10:15-10:30 AM Reflections on Sugar and Slaves, III: Nicholas Canny, National University of Ireland, Galway
10:30 AM-12:00 PM Session Four Economies: Chair: Emma Hart, McNeil Center and University of Pennsylvania
Paul Musselwhite, Dartmouth College “`Plantation’ and the Rise of Capitalist Agriculture in the Early Seventeenth-Century Caribbean” Teanu Reid, Yale University “Financial Life in the Tropics” Nuala Zahedieh, Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull “The progress of `King Sugar’ in early English Jamaica”
Casey Schmitt, Cornell University “‘They brought them from the Palenque’: Captivity and Smuggling in Jamaica, ca. 1660” Holly Brewer, University of Maryland “Not ‘Beyond the line’: Reconsidering Law, Power ad Empire in the origins of slavery in the Early English Empire”
2:30-4:00 PM Session 6 Slavery panel II: Runaways, Marronage Chair: Sheryllynne Haggerty, Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull
Clifton Sorrell, University of Texas “‘Ne Plus Ultra’: The Maroons and the Contested Conquest and Geography of Early Jamaica–– 1655-1690” Simon P. Newman, University of Wisconsin “The Barbados Planter Class and the Normalization of Slavery and Resistance in Restoration London” Linda Rupert, UNC Greensboro “Intertwined Geographies of Marronage and Empire in the Seventeenth-Century Circum-Caribbean”
4:00-4:15 PM Reflections on Sugar and Slaves, IV: Roderick McDonald, Rider University
4:15-4:45 PM Wrap up, with remarks from Richard Dunn, University of Pennsylvania
From the early stages of the pandemic, we have seen the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on minority and marginalised groups. This disparity continues to disadvantage those living in refugee camps across the world. While Covid-19 mortality rates in refugee camps have not been as devastating as was initially predicted, the impacts of the pandemic for displaced people are both broad ranging and ongoing. In the case of young refugees, we are seeing a particular set of adverse consequences which extend beyond physical health.
In my research I’m speaking with NGOs working within refugee camps on the Greek islands, and with people living in the camps who are seeking asylum. Time and time again, when I asked about the safety issues which young people in these camps are facing, Covid-19 came up. Interviewees spoke about the increased, unmonitored abuse and exploitation of young people as a result of Covid-19. One young man referred to this as the ‘hidden pandemic’ in refugee camps. A little more exploration revealed that this is unfortunately very much a trend across camps globally. While every camp presents distinct problems, trends such as this are appearing across the world.
Lockdowns, income loss, restriction of services and confinement to insecure environments are increasing the existing threats to the safety and well-being of young refugees. They are facing higher levels of mistreatment, gender-based violence, exploitation, abusive smuggling, social exclusion and separation from caregivers. In a refugee camp setting, where the stresses of daily life are already severe and child protection services are limited or non-existent, these increased safety risks are felt all the more intensely. While interconnected, these issues can be grouped into three dimensions: provision of services, poverty and xenophobia.
Services which young people in camps relied upon to alleviate the associated problems of encampment are slowed, or unable to function. One example of this is the closure of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) providing education services. Schools in refugee camps provide an informal safeguarding role – one which is rarely filled in any formal capacity. NGO representatives have described to me how getting to know young people and seeing them on a regular basis allowed their teachers to spot indicators that a young person may be experiencing some form of abuse, and to act accordingly. Remote learning is simply not accessible financially to the majority of these young people. It requires a mobile device, mobile data, and very often a long journey on foot to purchase the mobile data, not to mention the risk of exploitation or abuse faced while making this journey to the nearest town. In any case, it is the in-person contact which most effectively alerts teachers or support staff to a safeguarding issue.
Many other support structures are now closed too, including ‘safe spaces’ in camps. In Vial refugee camp on the island of Chios, the ‘safe space’ for women and young people has now been closed for ten months, making it harder for children to report child protection issues and receive the necessary support and care. Closures of support structures such as these are linked by NGOs and refugees themselves to the increasing rates of neglect, abuse, gender-based violence and child marriages occurring in camps.
Shifts in the services processing asylum claims are also having a tangible impact on the overcrowding and poor monitoring of camp residents. United Nations agencies suspended resettlement procedures at the beginning of the pandemic. In many countries, border closures have left displaced people stranded, placing children and their families at risk of further harm and potentially separating families for longer stretches. In the United States, people seeking asylum, including children, have been turned away or deported to their countries of origin at the United States–Mexico border as part of the response to Covid-19. This indefinite prolongation of encampment also further increases the poverty of those living in camps worldwide.
While the pandemic has not only increased the impacts of poverty on displaced people in camps, it has also altered and reduced the means available to refugees to combat these poverty increases. Children and young people are no exception to this change. Families and caregivers of refugee children are inherently more vulnerable to job loss or economic downturns. With loss of access to support services (which have been forced to withdraw or reduce their support due to social distancing measures or lack of funding), comes a greater intensity of need. This increased need for food, clothing, shelter, and income must be accommodated somehow. And with the closure of ‘safer’ channels to do so, there is an increased likelihood of children accessing what they or their family need through means which exploit them. More children are now working to provide income for their families, engaging in coercive or emotional relationships, exploitative or abusive smuggling, or sexual exploitation.
Very much interwoven with these issues is the circulation of misinformation on the spread of Covid-19. Stigma, xenophobia and discrimination towards displaced children and their families are being exacerbated worldwide. In Lebanon, multiple municipalities have introduced restrictions on Syrian refugees to stem the spread of the virus. However these do not apply to Lebanese nationals. Similarly, displaced people on the Greek islands are facing curfews, and even lockdowns that do not apply to Greek residents. In Italy, there have been incidents of police brutality towards young refugees simply for leaving their camp. With these trends a differentiation is made between the rights of nationals compared to those of refugees. They also underscore the overlap between health inequality or the commodification of health, and the enjoyment of basic human rights to safety and protection, a relationship which Covid-19 has highlighted all too clearly.
While it is important not to homogenise the experiences of minority groups, or to associate the personal identities of these people with only the labels of ‘refugee’ or ‘child’, it remains important to demonstrate that they are facing distinct challenges. These challenges need to be tackled with their particular circumstances in mind. The health implications of displacement, particularly in a pandemic, are of course vital to appreciate. However the ‘hidden pandemic’ of unmonitored and unprevented abuse presents an equally vital child health crisis which continues to be overlooked.
The Europa left Jamaica for London in November 1756. It was the start of the Seven Years’ War, and the vessel was taken by a French privateer on the 21st December, and then retaken by the British two days later. When the British retook the Europa, they found its letter bag from Jamaica hidden under a gun in the Captain’s cabin. The bag of letters – written by planters, merchants, ships’ captains, attorneys, artisans, ordinary sailors, and even some women, and sent to people in London, Bristol, Dublin and Liverpool – was taken as evidence for the Prize Courts in the High Court of Admiralty, as was usual, along with the vessel and its cargo. Those letters were never delivered. The cache of c.350 letters, covering September to November 1756, is preserved at The National Archives (HCA/32/189/22 and HCA 30/259). This is unique, because none of the original post bags of letters of the thirteen other vessels which were retaken as prizes returning from the British Caribbean during this conflict have been found.
I first discovered these letters in 2016 by accident, when I was looking for additional material for an article on privateering. I knew they were exciting, but had no idea what for, so I just photographed them all, including all the bills of lading, bills of exchange, ephemera and envelopes. It was about a year later that I realised that whilst others had used these documents for specific purposes such as prices of enslaved people and the processes of the prize courts, no one had used the letters as a discreet data set. Yet here were letters from people from a wide range of social backgrounds, writing on a vast array of topics. They provided a prism of Jamaican history – even of British imperial history – at a moment in time. Moreover, given that the Seven Years’ War would end with British hegemony in the Atlantic, and that Jamaican attitudes towards the enslaved would harden considerably after Tacky’s Revolt in 1756, they spoke to how life was experienced by ordinary people, white, black and of colour, men and women, free and enslaved, at this important moment in Jamaican history.
I decided to let the letters speak for themselves. Not knowing where to start I transcribed all the letters, associated documents, envelopes, ephemera – everything. This started possibly my largest academic journey. By following the letters I followed the themes they spoke to: trade and finance (okay I was fine with that) but the remaining themes pushed me into areas of history with which I was unfamiliar: war and politics; love, family and friendship; death and disease; consumerism. One area, if not missing entirely – but certainly unrepresented in the letters – were the enslaved. How was I to deal with this glaring omission of ninety percent of the population? In fact I dealt with this issue in the same way I had in fleshing out the lives of the white letter writers. I adopted an iterative methodology in which I used every source I could find for 1756 in conjunction with the letters. This has included: accounts of produce (statements of crops produced on estates of absentee planters); manumission records; court records; mercantile papers; wills; probate documents; and state and government records in Jamaica, Dublin, London, and many regional British archives. I also looked for further information beyond 1756 to tell me more about some of the people who either wrote the letters, were written to, or written about. I used the letters of the elite, but only for what they told me about others, rather than themselves. This methodology has enabled me to furnish far more information on the lives of the enslaved and ordinary whites than would otherwise have been possible.
I enjoyed the challenge of learning about all these areas of history that were new to me immensely. The only thing I have enjoyed more has been getting to know the characters that appeared to me from the pages of these letters: Captain William Clutsam, aptly named given the various travails he encountered; Edward Magnar who deserted a slave ship to go privateering; Sarah Folkes who could not bear to think that her child in England was dead; carpenter Ewbank Ogle, grateful that his brother had survived a fever; Rachel and Manoel Mendes ordering kosher beef brisket for a taste of home; and Amelia, who had to wait fourteen years for her promised manumission to be realised. I like to think that in some small way, not only have I told their stories, but that their letters have finally been delivered.
My book on this project, Ordinary People, Extraordinary Times: Living the British Empire in Jamaica 1756 is under contract with McGill-Queen’s University Press and will hopefully be published in 2022.
My research on child migration from Britain, and Indigenous child removal within Canada during the twentieth century, is particularly concerned with race. From a theoretical point of view, I am interested in what these schemes might demonstrate in terms of understanding ‘racial capitalism’. Connections between historic child welfare, and what academics term the ‘colonial global economy’ might not seem obvious, but both fuse questions of morality with relationships defined by imbalances of power, and an intent to gauge whose interests are being protected.
‘Racial capitalism’ is a concept attributed to the late Cedric Robinson, alongside other key figures associated with the Black Radical Tradition, recently receiving renewed interest from scholars and activists. In its most basic sense, it proposes an inextricable relationship between racism and capitalism.
Robinson argued that racialised exploitation was foundational to the development of capitalism within Europe, before the introduction of transatlantic slavery, in processes he considered colonial. He demonstrated that historically Europe’s working-classes contained racialisedsubjects, including Irish, Roma, Slav and Jewish people, whose exploitation was broadly accepted on account of their apparent cultural or ethnic inferiority.
Contemporary sociologists suggest that the capitalist tendency to differentiate workers along racial lines is frequently underestimated in accounts of how the modern world developed. We have to ask what is the work that racism does – over time and across place, for whose benefit and why – and set this alongside postcolonial theorists, who address the colonial processes fundamental to the reproduction of plural racisms.
In my research, racialisation, essentially the identification of particular people as ‘races’ has clear significance. When Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ North America in the fifteenthcentury, he apparently labelled its people ‘Indian’ because he mistakenly believed he had reached Asia. Five hundred years later, children from ethnically, linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds were forced to attend ‘Indian Residential Schools’, in an attempt to erase their ‘Indian’ heritage and assimilate them into Western-European culture, a legacy of this crude ‘pan-Indian’ construction and the colonial systems that manufactured and defined its terms.
How racial codes are constructed and transformed was something I considered when looking at the British Documents on the End of Empireseries, an annotated collection of government records chronicling Britain’s withdrawal from its colonial territories. The following quotes are all taken from these files, with the headings indicating which volume. I would urge anyone interested in Britain’s recent colonial history to have a look at them.
The Labour Government and the End of Empire 1945-1951: Part IV, pp. 144-155.
After the Second World War, the disintegration of Britain’s old imperial identity is reflected in discussions over Canada’s rejection of the ‘phrase if not the content of Dominion status’, now considered to imply domination. The model was India, ‘which only twenty years ago clamoured for Dominion status, now demands independence’. In a letter to India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Nehru in 1949, one year after gaining independence, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee emphasised the ‘power of words’ and the changing dynamics of Britain’s former empire, remarking how Canada first ‘called itself a Dominion having taken the term from some phrase in the Bible’. He lamented the fact that ‘we in this country are rather insensitive to the content of names’.
Imperial Policy and Colonial Practice 1925-1945: Part II, pp. 291-306.
Racial sensitivities, or lack thereof, are detailed in one compelling memo written in 1940 by B.E. Carman, Director of Education in British Honduras (now Belize), regarding ‘offensive passages in school textbooks’. Reflecting upon British racism, colonial policy, and the influence of the former on the colonies, Carman urged the Colonial Office to review the distribution of books authored by British academics, as their contents, ‘though not necessarily actually offensive, are yet irritating to local people’.
Carman cites the following extract to highlight what he terms the hypocrisy of ‘Western standards’ that claim cultural differences as ‘an accident of geography’ rather than racial inheritance, while still viewing non-white people ‘as some strange inferior species’.
The original people were negroes of a backward type […] But they have mixed to some extent with the better tribes farther north and so have been improved. (Laborde, The Southern Lands, 1931).
Carman also suggests that racial hierarchies between colonised populations be considered: ‘books written for West Africa cannot be used in the West Indies since the people here rightly regard themselves as being more advanced than their African relatives, particularly if they happen to be comparatively fair-skinned.’
Carman’s proposed solution, with hindsight, appears extraordinarily naïve. He suggested that if British scholars were only more ‘careful of what they write’, they could spare not only the feelings of Britain’s colonial subjects, but potentially reverse racial prejudices ‘developing in England [which] would be checked and probably even killed’.
This understanding of British racism as ‘purely a social problem’ recurs, demonstrating an important contention of postcolonial theory, and what is considered a false distinction between economic/political systems and social relations. The racism integrated in the former is denied by emphasising the latter. In the minutes of Colonial Office meetings in the early 1940s, the problem of domestic racial prejudice, characterised as ‘a disinclination on the part of white people to be brought into close association, socially, with coloured people’, is contrasted favourably with the seemingly intractable colonial ‘colour bar’, and explicitly racist legislation favouring their white European minorities. Despite these cases being, ‘very difficult to answer by a government which attempts to take its stand against colour prejudice’, in Africa especially, such discrimination was still considered ‘to be, and is, in the interests of the natives themselves.’
The Conservative Government and the End of Empire 1951-1957, Part III, pp. 393-395.
Hope that Britain’s racist inclinations could, in Carman’s words, simply be ‘brought up to date’ had been firmly dispelled by the 1950s, although the hypocrisy of publicly portraying anti-racist sentiments while tacitly condoning colonial racism, and here implementing racist policies, remained consistent. In the words of Lord Salisbury in a 1954 letter to Lord Swinton, ‘if we legislate on immigration, though we can draft it in non-discriminatory terms, we cannot conceal the obvious fact that the object is to keep out coloured people’.
This was in relation to the increasing migration of British subjects from the West Indies, foreshadowing the recent Windrush scandals. Salisbury remarked: ‘It is for me not merely a question of whether criminal negroes should be allowed in or not; it is a question whether great quantities of negroes, criminal or not, should be allowed to come…’
He was suggesting, derisively, that ‘this sudden increase of the inflow of Blacks is of course the welfare state’. Arguably this is true, since these were people actively recruited in their thousands to help rebuild Britain’s economy after the war, including to its new National Health Service.
Because of its usage in contexts similar to the above, ‘negro’ is a term now considered deeply offensive. In the 1920s however, W.E.B. Du Bois, forefather of the sociology of race, advocated its useby black people over ‘coloured’ for political reasons. Thinking about the currency of race – the work racialised constructions do, who uses them, how they change and why – is significant in research that hopes to understand racial capitalism and, ultimately, how the exploitation of particular people is often justified.
We hope you will join us for the last of our Wilberforce Institute Webinars for this academic year. On Thursday 20 May, at 4pm (BST), Dr Jelmer Vos of the University of Glasgow will share with us some of his latest research on the history of forced labour in Angola.
The first coffee estates in Angola using enslaved workers emerged in the 1830s. African smallholders long remained the dominant producers of coffee in this Portuguese colony, but in the 1930s and especially after World War Two settler production based on a system of forced wage labour expanded dramatically, making Angola one of the largest producers of robusta coffee in the world. Forced labour became a prominent feature of colonial life in Angola, and eyewitnesses and historians have long debated the continuities between this form of labour coercion and proto-colonial slavery.
This paper intervenes in this literature with three propositions. First, Angola differed from other colonial coffee economies where foreign planters played a dominant role (Côte d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Kenya) as the Portuguese government, despite fierce international pressures, was unwilling to withdraw their support from the settler economy. Second, forced labour resembled ‘modern slavery’ as described by Kevin Bales, in the sense that the system treated African farm labour as ‘disposable’. Third, despite this, its roots lay not so much in proto-colonial slavery, but rather in the equally old system of compulsory porterage.
To sign up for this event please click on the link below:
Dr Alicia Kidd, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Wilberforce Institute, talks about her forthcoming research monograph, Modern Slavery and Conflict: The Drivers and the Deterrents,after securing a contract with Oxford University Press. Her book will run in the Clarendon Studies in Criminology series.
This book developed out of my PhD thesis on the relationship between conflict and modern slavery, which I completed at the Wilberforce Institute in 2019. I had come to the subject in response to my experience as a practitioner in the field where I identified a real gap in research and knowledge regarding the root causes of modern slavery. In bringing an academic focus to practitioner experience, my book injects new material into the field of modern slavery, which is an area in which interest continues to grow amongst academics, practitioners and members of the public alike. This growing interest in modern slavery has also led to large public debates about immigration and asylum which are topics that my book engages with, particularly in relation to the discrepancies between the UK government’s declared intention to lead the way in defeating modern slavery whilst simultaneously imposing a restrictive and hostile environment on those seeking asylum.
By looking beyond just the individuals involved in cases of modern slavery – the victims and the perpetrators – my book will consider the ways in which states facilitate, and sometimes even actively encourage, situations of modern slavery to occur. While there is growing visibility of modern slavery, the portrayal of modern slavery cases inevitably focuses on an unwilling victim, tricked or deceived into exploitation by a criminal perpetrator looking to benefit from the victim’s misfortune. My book will challenge this conception of modern slavery by questioning the common assumptions that a) victims of modern slavery are all entirely distanced from the fate that awaits them and b) that modern slavery is a relationship simply between a victim and a perpetrator.
With a broad definition of conflict as an organising concept, I consider the ways in which conflict can facilitate modern slavery by generating unsafe conditions, disrupting support networks and encouraging displacement. Using first-hand accounts, comparisons are made between those who fled conflict to the UK in relative safety, and those who fled but then experienced modern slavery. My book contextualises these stories in order to understand why some people appear to be more at risk than others when escaping a conflict situation. The book also considers the lives of people after they have fled conflict and arrived in the UK. With the belief that they have left danger behind, arriving in the UK brings hopes of safety. However, by drawing insights from interviews with those who have experienced the UK immigration system, I am able to make observations about how the UK government and its restrictive and hostile immigration policies actually put people at increased risk of modern slavery once they are in the UK.
The strength of my book lies in its unique empirical focus on a comparison between first-hand accounts of people fleeing conflict to safety, and those fleeing conflict and experiencing modern slavery. It offers rare personal insights into the experiences of asylum seekers, refugees and victims of modern slavery and the specific aspects of their journeys that made them vulnerable to exploitation. I hope to have the first edition available in print in 2022.
In this blog, Professor Oldfield talks about the collaboration he was involved with between the Wilberforce Institute and the British Library.
In this blog, Professor Oldfield talks about the collaboration he was involved with between the Wilberforce Institute and the British Library.
In August 2020, I was approached by Katie Adams at the British Library [BL] to write an essay for the BL website. I would be lying if I said I did not hesitate for a moment. The brief was ambitious: a short 2000-word piece, tentatively entitled ‘The Abolition of the Slave Trade and Slavery in Britain, c. 1787–1838’, that would provide readers fourteen years of age and above with an accessible, up-to-date and academically rigorous introduction to the BL’s anti-slavery collections.
Having accepted the commission, I began to sketch out a plan. In conversations with Katie, we agreed that what was needed was an ‘integrated’ history of British anti-slavery, one that not only highlighted the achievements of William Wilberforce and his supporters but also took account of black resistance, whether in the Caribbean or here in the United Kingdom [UK], as well as the involvement of women in the abolitionist campaigns of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Furthermore, we wanted to make space for international perspectives and – if the word limit permitted – to say something about the legacies of emancipation (1833/1838) and the UK’s reckoning with slavery.
In early November, I submitted a first draft, which remarkably came in at just over 2,000 words. It soon became apparent, however, that we needed more space, not just to plug some of the obvious gaps but to tweak the argument and – in places – to make it more accessible. This was not all. The essay also had to fit within a suite of BL web pages, which inevitably meant that some degree of cross-referencing was necessary. As a result, the original draft began to expand, so much so that we set ourselves a new target of 3,000 words, including further reading and footnotes.
Late in December, I submitted a final draft, which Katie then built into web pages, complete with the relevant links. If you are interested in seeing the results, you can access the pages here:
Commissions of this kind are never easy or straightforward. They inevitably involve making decisions about what to include (and what to leave out), about tone and about register. They also involve understanding your client’s needs, which is why dialogue is so important. To a large extent, the whole process is about testing ideas, while at the same time being aware of the obvious constraints. None of us likes word limits but they can also be a way of focusing the mind, demanding a different kind of discipline that can be strangely liberating.
While my name appears as the author of ‘Abolition of the Slave Trade and Slavery in Britain’, the article should properly be regarded as the result of a collaboration between the Wilberforce Institute and the BL, and one that, for me, proved immensely rewarding. I am very grateful to Katie Adams for her expertise, support and encouragement, as I am to her colleagues at the BL. The essay is all the better for their input.
The eruption on 9 April of La Soufrière volcano on the Caribbean island of St Vincent followed months of smoke plumes and other warning signs. At the time of writing, some 20,000 people have been evacuated from their homes, about one fifth of the island’s population. Some are temporarily housed in shelters, others on cruise ships or neighbouring islands. On 14 April, the United Nations launched an emergency appeal after shelter capacity was breached and supplies of drinking water and other essentials ran low. Overcrowding also threatens to spread Covid-19 among the displaced.
To anyone with a long interest in the region or of volcanology, this may all sound familiar. In 1995, La Soufrière’s namesake – the Soufrière Hills volcano – erupted on the island of Montserrat, another former British colony in the same island chain. The southern half of the island, including Montserrat’s capital, were evacuated several times before temporary resettlement eventually became permanent. Around two-thirds of Montserrat’s original population of 10,600 inhabitants eventually relocated overseas, most in the United Kingdom [UK].
The volcanoes themselves also seem to be following similar patterns: eruptions of ash, debris and gases following a period of seismic activity and heavy ash falls that blight everyday life and pose a risk to health. Montserrat’s Soufrière Hills lava domes continue to rumble to this day, although the last major eruptions occurred between 1995 and 2010. Likewise, La Soufrière seems set to pose a threat to Vincentians for some time to come. Yet in my own research into the disaster on Montserrat, I found that neither the UK Government (Montserrat is a British Overseas Territory) nor the Government of Montserrat had been prepared to respond to an eruption, despite warnings from scientists, eruptions on neighbouring volcanic islands, and increased seismicity. Considering that St Vincent suffered three major eruptions in the twentieth Century, and like Montserrat is subject to other natural disasters such as hurricanes, the lack of preparedness and international support appears inexcusable.
To minimise disruption from displacement, and prevent more serious harms such as trauma, exploitation and poverty among displaced people, temporary accommodation must provide for an adequate standard of living. Despite St Vincent’s history of volcanic activity and months of warning signs, it appears that the government did not have enough shelters, hygiene kits or beds, and no adequate contingency for providing clean water and sanitation. The Montserratian government made similar oversights 30 years ago; as a result, 19 people who had returned to the relative comfort of their homes in the exclusion zone were killed by a pyroclastic flow on 25 June 1997.
The inadequate response of the UK Government to an unfolding catastrophe in its overseas territory caused further hardships on Montserrat. My analysis of Hansard records shows little interest in the situation among UK parliamentarians and government until the tragedy of June 1997 forced the issue into the spotlight. By this time, islanders had struggled on in cramped and insanitary conditions with limited access to food, education and health care, for almost two years. Eventually, the British government opened an assisted passage scheme to help Montserratians leave the island, with several thousand ultimately relocating to the UK. Yet the privations and indignities continued when many of the evacuees, who were supposed to be treated as British citizens, were denied National Insurance numbers and other basic support in the UK. Meanwhile the impacts of the late-1990s eruptions continue to be felt on the island to this day, with many Montserratians still lacking adequate housing and employment opportunities.
As the UN launches its emergency funding appeal, Britain, the former colonial ruler of St Vincent, has pledged just £200,000 of support. It is inevitable that the crisis on St Vincent, like La Soufrière itself, will rumble on for some time to come. To prevent a severely reduced quality of life for the relocatees, and potential tragedy if people opt to return home rather than suffering the misery of inadequate shelters, the British government must do more. The international community too should consider routes for safe and legal passage off the island for those who choose to leave, either temporarily or permanently, to reduce pressure on the limited available services. Such relocations should be carried out with dignity and with respect for the wishes of the evacuees.
Montserrat and St Vincent and the Grenadines sit in an increasingly vulnerable position as climate change warms the neighbouring seas and air. More forceful hurricanes and rising sea levels put the islanders at greater risk from future natural disasters. Heavy storms triggered by climate change can also increase the risk of, and dangers from, volcanic eruptions in the region. The sad inevitability that natural catastrophes will become more severe and frequent should prompt policymakers in the Caribbean nations and their former colonial rulers to step up their disaster preparedness and response. Sadly, for the currently displaced population of St Vincent, the window of opportunity may already have been missed.