December 2nd – International Day for the Abolition of Slavery

Professor Trevor Burnard

Director of the Wilberforce Institute

University of Hull

T.G.Burnard@hull.ac.uk

On the day the UN sets aside for observance of the International Abolition of Slavery,  Professor Trevor Burnard, Director of the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull, talks about the history of abolition, the numbers of people currently in forced labour, and the need to continue to combat slavery in the UK and around the globe.

The 2nd of December is an auspicious date for it commemorates an important evolution in human history, the acknowledgement that everywhere in the world slavery is illegal. Making slavery illegal globally came very late. Until the late eighteenth century, hardly anyone questioned that slavery was an important, if occasionally distasteful, institution that generally brought important people wealth and influence and often, as in the eighteenth century British and French empires, was a source of national prosperity.

France was the first nation to abolish slavery, in 1794, at the height of the French and Haitian Revolutions and then reintroduced it under Napoleon in 1802, meaning that its final abolition was only in 1848. Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807, a hard-fought battle led by both White abolitionists like William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson and Black freedom fighters, such as Olaudah Equiano.

 It was a matter of great pride for Britons then and often still that Britain led the way in abolishing the slave trade but it took another generation, until 1838, until slavery was formally abolished in the British Empire and even then slavery continued to exist in British possessions in Africa, South Asia and New Zealand. Nevertheless, as has become clear from protests, especially in the Caribbean, surrounding royal visits and around the relationship of Caribbean nations with Britain, the triumph of emancipation in 1838 obscures the fact that Britain did not give any compensation to emancipated ex-slaves while providing considerable financial help to the people who had owned enslaved people continues to rankle. Demands for reparation for the harm done to people during slavery are increasingly frequent and are enhanced by growing knowledge of just how much British wealth was based upon the labour of African-descended enslaved people, growing sugar and other tropical crops in atrocious conditions.

The reparations movement, gaining momentum in the Caribbean, Africa and elsewhere, and which connects to increasing claims about considering colonialism and the damages of climate change and how they affect the Global South, makes one realise that the historical legacies of slavery remain an important social and political concern. And these political controversies connect us to the reality that slavery, however we define it, whether as coerced labour or human trafficking or sexual exploitation continues to be a growing modern problem.

The number of people in forms of forced labour that amount to slavery is greater now than the numbers who were in slavery when European and American nations abolished slavery in the nineteenth century. It is more also than when nations in Africa and the Middle East formally abolished slavery in the last third of the twentieth century. Fortunately, the number of slaves in the world population of 2022, at around 0.7 percent, is lower than at the height of slavery, around 1800, when perhaps 5 percent of the world population was enslaved. But the numbers of people in forms of enslavement today remain huge and are increasing.

Britain and a few other places have instituted a Modern Slavery Act to try and combat this scourge, with 12,717 potential victims of modern slavery identified in Britain in 2021. The largest number of people identified as subject to slavery in Britain are British nationals, showing that as in the eighteenth century, slavery is not something happening elsewhere but is happening here as well. On this day of commemoration of something that was a signal advance in human history – the abolition of slavery and its transformation into being everywhere a crime – we need to remember just how much work we need to do to make slavery not just illegal but truly a thing of the past.

The boxes are pictured in Hull’s Whitefriargate. Picture: Sean Spencer/Hull News & Pictures

Richard Dunn, Sugar and Slaves, at Fifty Years 

Professor Trevor Burnard

Wilberforce Professor of Slavery and Emancipation and Director

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

T.G.Burnard@hull.ac.uk

Following a workshop earlier this year on Richard Dunn’s Sugar and Slaves, first published in 1972, contributors reproduced their talks for a special issue in the eminent early American history journal, Early American Studies, which has just been published. This blog by Professor  Burnard was written to accompany it.  

Historians are surprisingly poor at honoring the works of the historians who went before them.  We are focused on the present, at least when we consider historiographical trends. We tend to relegate historical masterpieces to distant memory. The historical amnesia about the great historians of the recent past has become even more pronounced as we have moved into the twenty first century and as we have dropped from our reading lists many books that have a twentieth century imprint. Books published before 2000 seem, to us and to our students, just old and out of date.

I remember well a manifestation of this love of the immediate in the historians we read in discussions over dinner in Curacao in the 2010s with Mary and Richard Dunn, Alison Games, Rod McDonald and Michelle Craig McDonald. Mary amused us all by teasing Richard over a comment made at the conference proceedings that day at the Association of Caribbean Historians by an early career scholar, educated mostly in the twenty first century, that Richard was a prominent twentieth century historian of the West Indies, a comment that seemed to suggest that Richard’s scholarship had all been done in the distant past. The speaker was referring, of course, to Richard’s 1972 masterpiece, Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713, which is the subject of this blog.

Richard Dunn

Of course, Mary’s teasing, while very funny, was utterly misplaced. Richard was far from being an historian whose work had been written so long ago that it was no longer au courant. He was an adventurous and forward-thinking historian whose work on the Caribbean is as vital in the third decade of the twenty first century as it had been in the eighth decade of the twentieth century. It is easy to imagine, however, a Richard Dunn whose scholarship might have developed in much more conventional grooves than it eventually did. He had been trained in seventeenth-century Anglo-American history at Harvard and Princeton. In his first decade or so as a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, he had written books on traditional topics, such as New England Puritans and the religious wars of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. One would have guessed in the mid-1960s that he would have continued in the same way that he started his historical career. Indeed, that seemed to be the case when he embarked upon a project (never completed, though it did inspire some outstanding essays along the way) to write about the Glorious Revolution of 1689-90 in a transatlantic context.

But Richard got waylaid by a document that he had come across, somewhat accidentally, at what was then called the Public Record Office in Chancery Lane, London. That document stopped any movement to conventional historical scholarship dead in its tracks. This document  was a census of Barbados in 1680. It showed how the transition a generation before to sugar and African chattel slavery had led in Barbados to the growth of the wealthiest ruling class in seventeenth century English America. The long-term result of this discovery, which led to his book on the Glorious Revolution to be put on a permanent back-burner, was the publication of one of the great masterpieces of early American history, written in a protean age of historical writing on seventeenth-century North America. Sugar and Slaves is one of the standout monographs of social history in the time when social and economic historians utilizing techniques drawn from French and British scholarship were transforming the landscape of early American historiography. Richard established, among many other findings, that historians writing on seventeenth century English America had to include Barbados in their accounts, along with more familiar stories drawn from Virginia, Massachusetts, and the Ohio Valley borderlands. It was an opening salvo in the conceptualization of a wider idea of early America, encapsulated nowadays in the commonly used hashtag #VastEarlyAmerica.

The impact of Sugar and Slaves was immediate and lasting. In my opinion, it ranks with Eric Williams’ Capitalism and Slavery (1944), Richard Pares, A West India Fortune (1950) and Elsa Goveia’s Slave Society in the British Leeward Islands (1965) as the most significant book on the early English Caribbean in the middle years of the twentieth century.

1973 edition

No other book in the last fifty years, I believe, has approached it in influence, historical esteem and in writerly verve, although Vincent Brown’s 2021 Tacky’s Revolt has won enough prizes to suggest it might join Dunn’s work in the pantheon of great works on the history of the British Caribbean during slavery.

I had been a fellow at the (then) Philadelphia Center for Early American Studies in 1986-7 before taking up a position at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. In was in 1986 when I first met Richard who was the director of the center where I was a fellow. Alison Games, now of Georgetown University, had been a student of Richard Dunn, working on a dissertation, later an important book, on migration patterns in the early seventeenth-century English Atlantic. Barbados had featured prominently in her dissertation and I had begun while at Mona extensive work into the Jamaican archives which led to scholarship on that island. Over the years, we had moved from being deferential students to becoming respectful colleagues of Richard. We had always valued very highly Sugar and Slaves, both as a source of empirical information and as a model of how to write about the early English Atlantic world.

It seemed to us that the fifty years’ anniversary of the publication of Sugar and Slaves was an appropriate time to evaluate it and its influence over time. Thus, we organized a workshop in June 2021 with speakers from Europe and North America who ranged in status from graduate students to emeritus professors. That workshop led to a special issue in the eminent early American history journal, Early American Studies, published alongside the publication of this blog, in the fall of 2022. I’d like to thank the new editors of EAS, Rose Beiler and Judith Ridner, for their enthusiastic support of our initiative to consider the arguments in Sugar and Slaves after 50 years.The workshop, which was done online, was sponsored by the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull and by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, the latter through the generous leadership of Daniel Richter.

The fact of the conference being online had advantages and disadvantages. It required less organization than a conference in person and cost very little to put on. There was some organization, however, and I’d like to thank Laura Spero and Amy Baxter-Bellamy of the McNeil Center for the many things they did to ensure that the workshop went well – which it did. Doing it virtually allowed for much greater participation than would have been likely for an in -person conference. The total attendance was around 150 people with about 80 people present at each session. On the other hand, we missed the chance to socialize and network with friends, new and old. A stimulating session would be followed by the dispiriting experience of a solitary lunch or dinner.

Alison and I were delighted by what happened at the workshop. It was satisfying on both a personal and an intellectual level. Personally, a highlight of the conference was that Richard was able to attend – he listened attentively to every paper. Richard, aged nearly 93 at the time of the workshop, was not in great physical health and indeed he died relatively soon after the workshop, in January 2022. But if struggling physically he was in great shape mentally and he gave a fascinating and moving speech at the end of the workshop which placed Sugar and Slaves in historical context; outlined some of his thinking behind writing the book; and, most interestingly, outlined how this book had shaped his research for his other important book on the British Caribbean (and the American South) which was A Tale of Two Plantations (2014).

On an intellectual level, the workshop and the ensuing special issue demonstrated both the lasting power of Sugar and Slaves as a mid-twentieth century historical masterpiece and also the ways in which, in part due to its influence, the themes that Richard developed have evolved and transformed over time. As Richard noted, the scholarship on this period of English Caribbean history is notably denser and richer than had been the case when he started his work. Our introduction to the special issue outlines some of the ways in which scholarship on the topics that Richard Dunn brought to historical attention in 1972 has changed over time.

A special feature of the workshop was a session in which close colleagues of Richard – Sir Hilary Beckles, Roseanne Adderly, Roderick McDonald and Nicholas Canny – reflected on Sugar and Slaves and what it meant to them and also on how Richard himself had shaped how they looked at early Caribbean history.

2000 edition

Two of these reminiscences are included with this blog as separate blog posts. For me, the opportunity to do homage to a great book, written by a wonderful historian, was the highlight of both the workshop and the special issue that this blog draws attention to.The best way to acknowledge a mentor and colleague, I believe, is to take seriously his or her work. This is what Alison and I have tried to do here for Sugar and Slaves, a book that retains its power and vitality, even fifty years after it was first published.

Award in Memory of Paola Monzini

Cristina Talens

Head of Business Risk Assessment Services

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

C.Talens@hull.ac.uk

Paola Monzini ((1965-2017) was an incredibly talented and inspirational woman on many fronts. She was a greatly respected and world acclaimed sociologist who started her working life at the Italian Government’s Anti-Mafia Investigation Directorate (DIA Direzione Investigativa Antimafia).

Her strategic thinking and negotiating skills were recognised at international level and she became one of the leading experts of the Global Programme Against Trafficking in Human Beings at the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) in Italy.She was also one of the main authors of the UN Protocol Against Trafficking and Smuggling of Human Beings, also known as The Palermo Protocol. This regulatory framework was used to develop national legislation across Europe and more recently in the UK through the Modern Slavery Act. During her years at UNICRI, Paola developed and implemented numerous multinational and bilateral intergovernmental projects across Europe, Africa and Asia with the aim of improving cooperation to facilitate police intervention, prosecution of criminals, and especially the protection of victims of trafficking and smuggling. She was a passionate advocate for the human rights of migrants and refugees in Italy. In 2016 she was one of the first researchers to interview Syrian men and women arriving into Italy, trying to identify the mechanics of exploitation for organised criminal networks in an attempt to protect refugees during their journeys to Europe.

As a measure of her intellectual and scientific contribution to the study of organized crime, human trafficking and global migration, an international award has been created in Paola Monzini’s honour by the friends, family and colleagues of this outstanding researcher. The ‘Paola Monzini’s Award’, launched this year in her memory,  will reward the most deserving students and researchers who, over the last 5 years – from 2017 to 2022 – have worked on a Master’s thesis or a PhD thesis on these topics in an Italian university or in a foreign university (languages accepted: Italian and English).

Special appreciation will be given to studies and research in the field of human, historical, political and social sciences that focus on migration, human mobility and citizenship policies, privileging a gender and intersectional perspective primarily via qualitative research methods – such as narrative approach, biographical analysis – with a particular focus on the stories of individuals involved in the subject investigated, including with the support of audio-visual tools. Priority topics will include trafficking in human beings, sex work and other forms of exploitation of migrants in the legal and illegal economy, violence and discrimination against migrant and refugee women, forced migration and migrants’ journeys particularly across the Mediterranean Sea.

Two cash prizes will be awarded as follows: 1.000 Euros for the best Master’s thesis discussed in an Italian or in a foreign university in the last 5 years (starting from the academic year 2017-2018); 2.000 Euros for the best Doctoral thesis (PhD) discussed in an Italian or foreign university in the last 5 years (starting from the academic year 2017-2018). The funds to support the award will be raised through a crowdfunding campaign. Should the funds raised for this award exceed the total amount for the two scholarships, the Scientific Committee reserves the right to either set up a larger number of awards for the current year or to set aside the surplus funds for the awarding of prizes in the following years.

Participants must send their work by 30 July 2022 in PDF format by e-mail to premiopaolamonzini@gmail.com  specifying that the work compete for the ‘Paola Monzini’s Award’. The work, countersigned with the name and surname of the author, must be accompanied by relevant documentation containing the following information:

  • Identification of the author (name and surname, telephone numbers, e-mail) and date;
  • Domicile and number of identity card or passport or other official identification document;
  • Declaration of the original nature of the work submitted, including the specification that the work is not a copy or a total or partial modification of the author’s or other authors’ work;
  • Declaration of the full ownership of the work’s rights;
  • Declaration of acceptance of all the conditions established by the ‘Paola Monzini’s Award’.

The Scientific Committee in charge of assessing the works and awarding the prizes, through its Coordinator, will keep participants informed and will communicate the results of the assessment by e-mail and through updates published on the web page dedicated to Paola Monzini, paolamonzini.tumblr.com, the website and social channels of the association AMM – Archivio delle Memorie Migranti (Archive of Migrants’ Memories) as well as the information channels of the associations and organizations that support this award. The submission of the work in itself guarantees the commitment of the author not to withdraw it from the competition.

The recipients of the award will be decided by the Scientific Committee. The winners will be announced and the prizes awarded at a public ceremony to be held by 30 October 2022.

Scientific Committee:

Monica Massari (University of Milan)

Coordinator, Paula Adam (Agència de Qualitat i Avaluació Sanitàries de Catalunya)

Teresa Albano (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe-OSCE)

Luca Ciabarri (Escapes-University of Milan)

Rino Coluccello (Coventry University)

Nando dalla Chiesa (University of Milan)

Gianluca Gatta (AMM – Archive of Migrants’ Memories)

Ombretta Ingrascì (University of Milan)

Giovanni Melillo (National Anti-Mafia and Counter-terrorism Directorate-DNAA)

Petra Mezzetti (Fondazione Empatia Milano-FEM)

Letizia Paoli (University of Leuven)

Ferruccio Pastore (Forum Internazionale ed Europeo di Ricerche sull’Immigrazione-FIERI. International Forum for International and European Research on Migration-FIERI)

Vincenzo Ruggiero (Middlesex University)

Emilio Santoro (University of Florence)

Giulio Sapelli (University of Milan)

Rocco Sciarrone (University of Turin)

Cristina Talens (University of Hull)

Collecting qualitative data during the Covid-19 pandemic: Reflections from the field

Ndiweteko Jennifer Nghishitende

PhD student

Living with the Consequences of Slavery Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull.

N.J.Nghishitende-2020@hull.ac.uk

My research aims to understand women’s journeys after experiencing ‘modern slavery’ in the UK. Though ‘modern slavery’ is understood as an umbrella term encompassing various forms of exploitation, including human trafficking, slavery, servitude, and forced or compulsory labour, the term is highly contested, and so in my writing, I have decided to place inverted commas around it.

In October 2021, I began collecting data through semi-structured interviews with women affected by ‘modern slavery’ and practitioners working in the field across the UK. Because there were still high levels of Covid-19 infection, I offered the women I interviewed the choice to talk online or in person. In this blog, I will share some reflections on my experiences of conducting interviews online, and their benefits and drawbacks. The names of the women involved have been changed.

Out of the nineteen women I interviewed, only five decided to be interviewed in person, while fourteen chose Zoom. As soon as I realised that online interviews were the preferred method, I began asking the women why they had chosen to meet on Zoom rather than in person.

Zoom has a reputation as a ‘subtly dehumanising technology’ with the potential to undermine the trust that is necessary to building rapport. However, in general I did not find it difficult to warm to the women, especially when they learned that I am a mother – a good number of my interviewees were mothers.

When asked why they had chosen Zoom, the first prominent reason the women gave for preferring it was the ability to express themselves freely. Ginger said:

It was more convenient, and I could be free to speak my mind, in my own space where I know that no one can hear me. I felt free to speak with you and also be vulnerable in my telling you of everything that happened.

Naomi highlighted a potentially overlooked aspect – the problem of anxiety.

I prefer zoom. No travelling and it depends on the area anyway where I’m going. I’m a very very quiet person on a normal day so when I’m around people that I don’t know or I’m not used to I’m very very uncomfortable. I have anxiety so I’m always conscious when I’m outside.

When participants in such intimate research feel safe to speak, the interview process becomes much easier for both parties and better for collecting quality data. Remote interviews may then be the solution for those who have access to them and consent to use them.

Some women also informed me that the screen provided an essential emotional shield. Selma, for instance, said she would not say she particularly preferred either online or face-to-face interviews. However, in hindsight, she said, ‘it was better seeing me upset over the cam than physically.’

Other women also saw online discussions as less embarrassing and raised other issues related to the screen image. Paula had this to say:

online is fine but the travel … is only because my leg is bad, I think for me and that the things probably we discussed I will find it harder to discuss face-to-face because you wouldn’t want to break down and online kind of like allows me to speak. That’s my own personal opinion. To speak quite bluntly about a lot of things let’s say if we were sitting face-to-face I would start watching your body language and say maybe I’m making her uncomfortable maybe I’m not you know those kinds of things.

Most women indicated that because they could not see most of my body, they could not see my body language. This was important because sometimes body language can act as a disincentive. Similar to Paula, Ruby said:

No hassle of travelling and to be frank, I would not be as open to speaking with you as I am now. I would have been looking at your body language to see if I am making you uncomfortable and then decide based on that whether or not I should reveal more.

As the researcher, I also found distance in the screen as I fought back tears at several points during the interview. But at the same time, I felt powerless.  Though I appreciate that when some women become emotional, they want to be on their own to deal with this, in person, I could have offered a tissue or a drink of water.

At the same time, the distance provided by the screen can be a problem. Travelling away from an interview’s location can help the interviewer deal with the emotions they accumulated from the interview by putting a physical distance between themselves and its location. However, this was not possible with Zoom. You can press a button or close your laptop once you say goodbye, but the interview stays with you. It lingers.

In addition, I was at a disadvantage in not seeing much body language. Although I could note facial expressions, long pauses, laughter, tears, and sighs, I could not see what the women were doing with their hands and found it hard to notice when they shifted in their seats. Without these important non-verbal cues, I found it difficult to assess their level of discomfort and deliver my duty of care towards them.

In one case, all body language, including facial expressions, was eliminated. I had given all the women the option to keep their camera off during the interview, but fortunately, only one woman decided to do this. Nonetheless, her ability to see me while I could not see her was an interesting experience. Out of curiosity, I asked her at the end why she did not feel comfortable having her camera on; she said, ‘I don’t know you’, which was fair enough.

For those who chose Zoom, the convenience of an online interview was a key factor, and this has been confirmed by other studies.  Tiwa indicated that ‘it’s only because of my busy schedule. I can only afford to do Zoom at the moment, which made the interview faster rather than waiting for a day that I’ll be free’. Others pointed out that they were glad that they did not have to travel to meet me, and spending less was also cited, even though I had informed them that I would be responsible for any costs they would incur. I believe this revealed some empathy for my research costs.  I have to say here that I also appreciated the convenience that came with online interviews for me, which saved me time and money. Most importantly, I could complete my research diary immediately after the interview while the conversation was still fresh in my mind.

It was interesting that safety, including contracting Covid-19, was the least cited reason. Only one woman glossed over the issue. One other mentioned safety and said: ‘You stay in Hull, will it be easy for you and besides, I haven’t met you before so for safety reasons as well.’

It is, however, also important to note that not everyone prefers Zoom, as Naita’s response reveals:

I’m not sure… I would have liked to meet face-to-face, but it was convenient that I could fit the zoom meeting into my schedule also. So, I normally like to meet face-to-face, but it all depends how busy I am.

Despite slight connectivity problems with one or two interviews, my experience of Zoom interviewing overall has been positive. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that there are some drawbacks and while online interviews seem promising and will probably gain more prominence moving forward, we should keep in mind the inequalities that Covid-19 has laid bare across the world, at individual and government levels. Communities with little or no access to computer technology will, in this online world, be excluded from research. This should remind us that when able to do so, the physical field is still the best place to be, even if it means spending more hours travelling and spending more money to hold interviews to ensure that no one is left out.

As researchers, whenever possible, may we always choose inclusion over convenience. Let us hike deserts, if we must, to reach the rarely researched, technologically out of reach communities. Photo by author.

The Changing Relevance of Empire

Professor Trevor Burnard

Director of the Wilberforce Institute

T.G.Burnard@hull.ac.uk

Website: http://trevorburnard.com

Today we reproduce Professor Trevor Burnard’s blog for the Institute of Historical Research, written as he stands down from his position as editor of the Empire to 1783 section of the Bibliography of British and Irish History.

It might be thought that the British Empire and imperialism as a topic of historical inquiry have always been subjects of great fascination for scholars and students of British history. Britain was an imperial nation from the early seventeenth century, with settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. By the eighteenth-century, as Britain embarked upon a series of generally successful wars against France about who controlled the New World and South Asia (the American Revolution being the major exception to continued British imperial success), matters imperial were discussed in virtually every issue of the newspapers that proliferated in the nation and imperial plans were central to the geopolitics of Britain’s quest to become powerful in the world. In the nineteenth century, of course, British global power was signified by the many places of the map that were marked `red’ as belonging to the British nation. Imperialism continued into the twentieth century with both world wars being, as Richard Overy argues for World War II, imperial conflicts.

Nevertheless, the practice of imperial history by professional historians has ebbed and flowed in importance and significance over time, according to fashion and to contemporary politics. As little as a generation ago, imperial history was decidedly out of fashion. Indeed, as Pat Griffin, a leading historian of the American Revolution, noted in an appreciation of the most important mid-twentieth century imperial historian of early America, Lawrence Henry Gipson (1880-1971), whose magnum opus was a massive fifteen-volume history of the British Empire in the Americas before the American Revolution, imperialism was effectively a left-behind approach to history when Gipson finished writing imperial history in the 1960s. When Gipson died in 1971, his approach, marked by an indifference to history from below, an incessant and occasionally grating Anglophilia at odds with a more diverse America, and his deliberately pedestrian prose (chosen out of distaste for the florid over-romanticism of a generation of amateur historians writing at the turn of the twentieth century) was out of step with a Vietnam-era world of decolonization and anti-imperialism. Ironically, perhaps, Griffin wrote this review of Gipson and the end of imperial history in 2003, the year that I began as editor for the Empire and the Commonwealth before 1783 section of the Bibliography of British and Irish History [BBIH].

The same derision towards imperialism was less apparent in British historiography of the 1970s and 1980s but it was still there. It was Europe that was the thing to concentrate upon, after Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1974. The New Zealand historian, J.G.A. Pocock, lamented how `within very recent memory, the English have been increasingly willing to declare that neither empire nor commonwealth ever meant much in their consciousness, and that they were at heart Europeans all the time.’ (J.G.A. Pocock, ‘British History: A Plea for a New Subject,’ Journal of Modern History, 47 (1975), 601-21).

Pocock’s former colleague in New Zealand, D.K. Fieldhouse, then at Cambridge, was even more despondent about the future of imperial history at this time. He expressed despair over the fragmented state of the field, imploring, ‘can the fragments of the old history be put together again into new patterns which are intellectually respectable?’ He feared that imperial history might be ‘condemned to share the midden of discredited academic subjects with, say, astrology or phrenology.’ (D.K. Fieldhouse, ‘Can Humpty-Dumpty be put together again: imperial history in the 1980s,’ Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 12 (1984), 9-23.)

We can start to see changes developing in an article by Fieldhouse’s successor at Cambridge, A.G. Hopkins, in 1999. Hopkins thought that imperial history had a future and that it was all that more important as discourses of globalization were taking hold. He proclaimed that ‘what is needed is a fundamental reappraisal of world history to bring out the extent to which, in recent centuries, it has been shaped by the interaction of several types of empire at various stages of development and decay.’ (A.G. Hopkins, ‘Back to the Future: From National History to Imperial History,’ S&A 164 (1999), 198-243). The most significant historiographical event which transformed the study of imperialism was the five-volume survey of British imperialism in the Oxford History of the British Empire, published in the late 1990s. The OHBE was a watershed moment, providing an agenda for historical investigation into empire, even if its defiantly anti-postcolonialist stance was off-putting to those more sympathetic to postcolonialism and to a ‘new imperial history’ based around explorations of difference.

What united traditional imperial historians and ‘new’ imperial historians was a belief that imperialism was so wide-ranging as to encompass the whole of eighteenth-century British and British American history. It was about culture as much as power. As Eric Hinderaker wrote in 1996, ‘empire is a cultural artifact as well as a geopolitical entity; it belongs to a geography of the mind as well as a geography of power.’ (Eric Hinderaker, ‘The “Four Indian Kings” and the Imaginative Construction of the British Empire,’ WMQ 53 (1996), 486).

And as Kathleen Wilson argues, ‘the eighteenth-century British empire presents us with interconnected and interdependent sites of historical importance, territorial and imaginative, that can disrupt oppositions between metropole and colony and allow us to rethink the genealogies and historiographies of national belonging and exclusion.’ (Kathleen Wilson, ‘Introduction; histories, empires, modernities,’ in idem, A New Imperial History: Culture, Identity and Modernity in Britain and the Empire 1660-1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 3).

Studies of empire have abounded since the 2000s because they meet significant parts of the twenty-first century zeitgeist, at least that zeitgeist which existed before the rise of populist nationalism in China, America and much of Europe after 2015. Historical imperialism is an interesting topic in an age of transnational globalization when the borders separating countries and economies seemed porous (a reality that in the Covid era has rapidly disappeared). Imperial history also answered questions about the past which bore on the present – notably the cultural history questions of identity and difference – in ways that histories of nation-states were less able to do. Krishan Kumar explains that ‘empires, for all their faults, show us another way, a way of managing diversity and differences that are now the inescapable fate of practically all so-called nation-states.’ ‘That by itself,’ he argues, ‘seems sufficient grounds for continuing to study them, and to reflect on what they might be able to teach us.’ The study of empires engages current beliefs in multiculturalism, diasporas, migrations and multinationalism and can be a prism through which the ‘pressing problems of the contemporary world and even the birth pangs of a new world order’ can be addressed. (Krishan Kumar, Visions of Empire: How Five Imperial Regimes Shaped the World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017), 3, 475).

The BBIH has many works that contribute to this renewed sense that imperialism is important. There are 46,856 entries on empire and the commonwealth, about 16,000 or so which deal with the period when British North America was part of a British Empire. Works on the West Indies, on British India, and on Africa are less abundant but are increasing in numbers. Reading the most recent entries confirms that there has indeed been an ‘imperial turn’ in British historiography with empire considered vital to understanding the British past as much as its present, and perhaps its future. The study of imperialism and its legacies in the period before 1783 is in rude good health as I give up being section editor for this period in 2022, in considerable contrast to where it was when I started as section editor in 2003.

Tropical Hospitality, British Masculinity, and Drink in Late Eighteenth-Century Jamaica

Professor Trevor Burnard

Director of the Wilberforce Institute

University of Hull

t.g.burnard@hull.ac.uk

In our last regular blog before the autumn, Professor Trevor Burnard provides a summary of his recent article in the Historical Journal. 

Jamaica was the wealthiest and most unequal colony in the eighteenth-century British Empire. It established a distinct culture among its white inhabitants – what we might call the lifestyle of the ‘British male abroad’. That culture was characterized by various forms of libidinous excess, as seen in sexual behaviour that was depraved, deviant and debauched by the standards of the time, and by our standards today, involving as it did the sexual exploitation of enslaved women and free women of colour. It involved, moreover, reprehensible and exploitative attitudes to non-white people both directly and also indirectly – the gluttony and drunkenness of white Jamaicans contrasted glaringly with enslaved people on the verge of starvation. Commentators such as the historian Edward Long praised the white inhabitants for their commitment to an ethos of hospitality and generosity but the reality of white Jamaican ‘hospitality’ was much more sordid. A better guide than Long to the realities of white culture in eighteenth-century Jamaica, even though Long is by far the more important writer, is J.B. Moreton, who wrote a racy guide for the benefit of ‘cowskin heroes’ or young male immigrants seeking wealth and fortune in managerial positions as overseers of enslaved people on plantations.

Tropical Hospitality, British Masculinity, and Drink in Late Eighteenth-Century Jamaica uses Moreton’s guide as a means to investigate Jamaica’s debauched drinking culture. It shows that drink, dancing, and illicit sex combined to create a milieu in which activities frowned upon in Britain, or which were confined to specific and highly regulated homosocial encounters, defined white male cultural practices in the island. They drank to excess, adopted libertinism as a mode of behaviour, and saw hospitality less as a virtue than as a way of obtaining pleasure, often at the expense of enslaved women. In short, white Jamaicans were hospitable but they were not polite. If anything, they grew less polite over time, as their positions as privileged parts of the plantation system made them feel especially entitled. Ideas about the tropics formed in the Caribbean quickly migrated to other regions, notably to India. This revealed that British rule was not inevitably linked with ‘moral progress’. The tropical male abroad was devoted to very hard drinking, a vice which harmed their health, turning their well-formed British bodies into diseased Creole ones. This transformation showed in the malign effects of the tropics on character and physiognomy. The white tropical male abroad was thus not generous and hospitable, as patriotic Jamaican writers tried to insist was an intrinsic part of Jamaican culture. Instead, the tropical male abroad, at least those that took enthusiastically to island life, was typically a drunkard and a sexual predator. Their drinking culture provides a window into how white men devoted to satisfying their urges and seeking pleasure as a major goal adapted themselves to the peculiar social conditions, including slavery, of eighteenth-century Jamaica.

Harbour Street, Kingston, Jamaica, between 1820 and 1824, James Hakewill (1778-1843). Source: https://archive.org/details/picturesquetouro00hake/page/12/mode/2up

Insurance Covered! A look at the Zong Massacre

Professor Trevor Burnard

Director of the Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

trevor.burnard@hull.ac.uk

Insurance Covered! offers a series of podcasts on all matters relating to insurance, created and compered by Peter Mansfield, a partner with the law firm RPC (Reynolds Porter Chamberlain). As part of this series Professor Trevor Burnard was invited to discuss the most notorious insurance case in history, Gregson v Gilbert (1783), commonly known as the Zong Massacre. In the podcast Professor Burnard places this case in its Jamaican historical context, explains why the case came about and notes its importance in the burgeoning British abolitionist movement.  A summary of the podcast is provided below.

The Zong massacre, long recognised as a notorious event in insurance history, involved the despicable murder of enslaved people in an attempt to claim back losses in insurance. During November and December 1781, the crew of the ship named the Zong threw more than 120 enslaved captives overboard in order to claim insurance on these ‘losses’. This took place only a month after Britain had lost the American Revolution with the Battle of Yorktown. French ships were at that stage just moving in towards the Caribbean, and it looked like Jamaica would be conquered by the French fleet. At that point, Jamaica, which was Britain’s most valuable and important colony, was in a terrible state. The great majority of Britons were invested in the slave trade and Britain was the greatest slave trading nation in the world.

The Zong was a ship captured in Ghana by the Gregson family, Liverpool slave traders, who used this captured ship to transport a very large number of captives to the West Indies, ideally to Kingston, but with only a very small crew. The ship encountered trouble en route, found itself off course and running low on supplies. With not enough water to go round the crew had three choices. The first and the most obvious was to wait for water to arrive, in other words, rain, or another ship, and to sail for Montego Bay as quickly as possible. The second was to batten down the hatches so the slaves could not escape, accept that some would die from dehydration and disease and then to try and sell as many as they could for whatever price they could get when they got to Montego Bay; that’s what normally happened on slave ships in this sort of situation. The third, and the one they chose to take, was to throw 54 women and children overboard in order, they claimed later on, to stop an insurrection; this took place on 29th November 1781. A further 42 individuals, all men, were thrown over on 1st December and sometime after 6th December the crew threw over another 26; 10 Africans threw themselves overboard. This equates to the abhorrent murder of 122 captives and a total of 132 deaths.

The Gregsons then put in an insurance claim, citing the action taken to be lawful to prevent insurrection and rebellion, which at the time was a common claim to make. The underwriter however refused to pay out on the claim. This is thought to have been because the actions of the crew made him doubt that this was a legitimate claim – it looked more like a scheme to maximise profits and make up for the poor return on the voyage. The decision was then left to the courts to decide. Initially the decision went in favour of the slave traders, but on appeal, Lord Mansfield reversed the decision. There were two key reasons for this: the manner in which a number of captives had thrown themselves off the ship;  and the claim that a lack of water had been the reason for insurrection, when in fact there had been heavy rain before, during and after the massacre. Despite Mansfield’s ruling the story has an unsavoury ending: the Gregsons may not have won their claim but they ultimately got away with 122 murders. The case of the Zong was nevertheless of key importance in helping to kickstart the abolitionist movement.

You can view the podcast via the following links:

Acast

iTunes

Spotify

‘The Slave Ship’ by J. M. W. Turner (1840). In the background, the sun shines through a storm while large waves hit the sides of a sailing ship. In the foreground, enslaved people are drowning in the water, while others are being eaten by large fish. Source: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Summary of author’s recent publications

Professor Trevor Burnard

Director of the Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

trevor.burnard@hull.ac.uk

In today’s blog Trevor Burnard, Director of the Wilberforce Institute, provides a summary of the last of his publications in 2020.

The Atlantic in World History (London: Bloomsbury, 2020)

Atlantic history as a way of envisioning the making of the early modern world is a historiography that arose in the 1970s, became more fully developed in the 1990s and 2000s, and has by 2020 become an established field of historical inquiry. My synthesis of Atlantic history, based on being a practitioner of such history for nearly thirty years, provides a quick introduction for students and the general reader to this interesting field. It is a field that at bottom is an exploration of movement across the ocean and between the four continents of Africa, the Americas, and Europe – that movement being the movement of people, things and ideas. It starts with European involvement in Africa in the mid-fifteenth century and Columbus’ epoch-making voyages to the Caribbean from 1492. It ends in the mid-nineteenth century, with the abolition of slavery in most New World societies. The book explores how the peoples and the environments of Atlantic places were linked together, in ways that were both good and bad, but always historically interesting. I show how the Atlantic has been more than just an ocean – it has been an important site of circulation and transmission, allowing exchanges and interchanges between various peoples in ways that have profoundly shaped the development of the world beyond, as well as within, the Atlantic.

As the Atlantic world was about more than slavery, so slavery forms only part of a book in which gender, religion and trades are extensively discussed. Nevertheless, slavery is a vital part of the Atlantic world and indispensable to its workings.  I explore its Iberian origins, its African dimensions and its apogee in the eighteenth-century Caribbean and North America before examining how the institution most central to Atlantic history, outside empire and the monarchy, was abolished in a very quick time. From the late eighteenth century abolition was built on two foundations: the establishment of an abolition movement by a determined and small number of evangelical Britons led by William Wilberforce, and the resistance of the enslaved in the Americas. The most important slave resistance to planter power was in Haiti between 1791 and 1804, an event that has a prominent role in my chapter on the age of revolutions.

I end my account by recalling the quintessential American song `Oh! Susanna’ written by Stephen Foster in 1847. It is a very African and Atlantic song as well as an American song – a `negro melody,’ as Foster called it. It is a comic, indeed tragicomic, retelling of the story of an enslaved person left behind in the many breakups that characterized African American slavery in the nineteenth century. It is a song written by a person of European heritage using the voice of a descendant of Africans wanting to leave a place which had once been Native American land. Thus, it unites through culture the ways in which peoples of the Atlantic were brought, often unwillingly, together. These many connections point to the continuing relevance of Atlantic history today.

‘Atlantic Slave-Systems and Violence,’ in Erica Charters, Marie Houllemare and Peter H. Wilson, eds, Violence in the Early Modern Period (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020)

In this chapter on violence in the Atlantic slave trade, I start by noting how we have to be careful when talking about violence and slavery. There are good reasons not to luxuriate in the details of violence and thus re-inscribe the problems of violence as experienced by enslaved people. Brutal language hardens rather than softens the reader to the violence of slavery, especially when acts of brutality are catalogued at repeated length, making it hard to engage fully with a more important subject – what did violence mean and how did violence operate to strengthen or weaken the institution of enslavement. I argue here that brutality, violence and death were not mere by-products of the extremely lucrative early modern plantation system but were the sine qua non of the plantation world.

In this article, I ask the following questions. First, was violence central or incidental to the ideology of enslavement and to the workings of the Atlantic slave trade, in particular? I argue it was central. I also ask about the effectiveness of violence in maintaining planter power. I argue again that violence produced generally efficacious results for slave owners in keeping control over enslaved people. It was less effective in convincing rulers in Europe that planters’ authority over their slaves was legitimate.

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to suggest that acts of violent resistance by enslaved people were ineffective and pointless, even though such acts seldom met with any success. When enslaved people were violent, it demonstrated three things. First, it showed fellow enslaved people that some of their compatriots were prepared to reject their place in the system. Second, it showed to opponents of slavery that slave masters’ propaganda about slaves being happy with their place in society was just that – slavery was not a benevolent institution but one upheld by coercion and through punishment. Finally, violence by slaves was often interpreted by abolitionists through a Christian lens, in which the iconography of Christ’s martyrdom was equated with suffering slaves.

Modern Slavery Update

Professor Trevor Burnard

Director of the Wilberforce Institute

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

t.g.burnard@hull.ac.uk

Andrew Smith

Coordinator of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

a.smith9@hull.ac.uk

In this final blog of 2020, Trevor Burnard and Andrew Smith provide updates on recent initiatives to tackle modern slavery. First, Andrew provides an overview of practical developments in our region that aim to combat modern slavery, taken from his November newsletter.

Tackling Modern Slavery


Seven-strong purge on Modern Slavery
A unique and trail blazing approach to tackling modern day slavery is set to crank up the heat on those who exploit people through business activities and supply chains. Seven Police and Crime Commissioners and their respective Chief Constables including Humberside have worked together to develop a Modern Slavery Transparency in Supply Chains (TISC) Statement. In Humberside, the commitment by Police and Crime Commissioner Keith Hunter to fund the partnership coordinator role and support the creation of our dedicated Operation Wilberforce police team means that our Anti-Slavery efforts are now firmly part of daily business. While there is still much work to do to embed a sustainable and meaningful response in all sectors, stakeholders, partners and those who have a statutory duty to respond to modern slavery in our area have more support than ever before to meet their obligations.

Force wide strategy to tackle modern slavery – Humberside Modern Slavery Partnership Strategic Plan 2020 – 2023
To coincide with Anti-Slavery Day 2020, the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership released the first modern slavery strategy for the Humber region. This progressive move sets the tone for partnership action over the next three years in combatting this despicable crime. Spanning all four local authority areas in our region, this new, overarching strategy brings together statutory and non-statutory partners including law enforcement, academics and health and third sector professionals to give a focused and targeted approach to modern slavery and human trafficking. For more details see Andrew’s earlier blog at: https://wilberforceinstitute.uk/2020/10/26/combating-modern-slavery-in-the-humber/

Innovative new workshops will help frontline workers respond to cases of modern slavery
The University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute has helped launch a new series of innovative resources, designed to help frontline workers respond to individual cases of modern slavery. Launched to mark Anti-Slavery day this year, the Institute, in partnership with The Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre, has announced new resources and workshops. These have been led by a team at the Institute, in collaboration with the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership and Fresca Group. The workshops provided to partnership coordinators across the country will help support the training needs among partners working in our communities. For more details see the earlier blog by Alicia Kidd, who led the project, at: https://wilberforceinstitute.uk/2020/08/13/modern-slavery-partnership-workshops/

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In the second part of this blog, Trevor Burnard introduces the launch of a major new appeal for tackling modern slavery.

ACTion to End Modern Slavery

At the University of Hull we are proud of the work carried out at the Wilberforce Institute in understanding and tackling modern day slavery. However, success has been hard won, and the uphill battle continues in the face of increased incidences of modern slavery in the UK. 

The Wilberforce Institute is therefore delighted to launch a funding drive for a major new initiative increasing knowledge about the Modern Slavery Act and its operations here in the UK.  Action is needed now.  Modern slavery and human trafficking are among the UK’s biggest criminal industries and we can only defeat them together. That’s why we’re asking for your support. This week we are launching our fundraising campaign to help the Wilberforce Institute become a hub in the fight against this evil crime. The UK government passed the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, but without additional expertise within the justice system, as well as insight and support for those working to de-criminalise victims, this legislation is too complex to be effective.

The Wilberforce Institute has the ability to play a unique role in building a collaborative network within the legal profession and beyond. With our networks, research and expertise, we can develop strategic and coordinated approaches in protecting, investigating and prosecuting, turning dry legislation into an effective tool for emancipating victims.

More information about the campaign can be found here.

The Wilberforce Institute and Sierra Leone

Professor Trevor Burnard

Director of the Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

trevor.burnard@hull.ac.uk

The city of Kingston-upon-Hull has been twinned with Freetown in Sierra Leone for forty years. That twinning is a natural fit given the close history of both places with the age of abolition in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and with major abolitionists, black and white, in Britain, Canada and Sierra Leone. The Wilberforce Institute has developed close links with a variety of institutions in Freetown and values very highly its connections with individuals and societies in that city and in the country of Sierra Leone.

One of our primary links in recent times has been through an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project, led by John Oldfield of the Wilberforce Institute in conjunction with the Universities of Liverpool and Nottingham. This project, the Antislavery Knowledge Network has developed community-led strategies for creative and heritage-based interventions in Sub-Saharan Africa. It includes individual projects such as one working with film makers in Sierra Leone to shed light upon vulnerable seaside communities.

A recent event connected with the Wilberforce Institute is worth noting. We have been involved with the Wilberforce Lodge in Hull (it is based in Beverley but has a strong Hull connection) in informing members of this Masonic lodge about the person after whom both the lodge and the Institute are named. As part of its outreach activities this year, I was delighted to attend an online meeting between the three Masonic Lodges named after Wilberforce – one in Hull, one in South London and another in Sierra Leone. We took part in what we might term a Covid-inspired event, which was an online meeting between members of the three lodges, in which they shared their history and outlined their philanthropic aims and objectives, many of which connect with the vision of the Wilberforce Institute. We were delighted to receive from the Hull lodge a very generous gift of a book series – The Cambridge History of Violence – which is now added to our library at the Wilberforce Institute.

We very much hope these links continue and develop, especially once life returns to whatever normality is going to be in the future.

Book presentation by members of the Wilberforce Lodge to Professor Trevor Burnard outside the Wilberforce Institute.