Open Publications

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The Antislavery Usable Past: History’s Lessons for How We End Slavery (Rights Lab, University of Nottingham, 2020) ISBN 978-1-9161929-0-4 (e-book).

In 2016, the Wilberforce Institute and the University of Nottingham were successful in their bid for Arts and Humanities Research Council funding for a project designed to uncover and apply the lessons of antislavery movements of the past to contemporary antislavery efforts. The findings are presented in this new book, The Antislavery Usable Past: History’s Lessons for How We End Slavery, a collaboration of the numerous scholars that worked on the project under the overall direction of Kevin Bales.

This is not your usual history book. The aim of the editors is for it to be a resource for anyone engaged in the business of antislavery, whether in a charity, a campaigning non-governmental organization, in local, regional, or national government, or just as a citizen committed to the antislavery cause.

Working to end or escape slavery has been a constant part of human existence. The history of antislavery offers valuable examples that can inform and support today’s activism. But though many abolitionists and human rights workers have striven to abolish slavery, we are rarely aware of their existence, much less of the lessons they learned. The editors hope this volume will help these individuals speak to us from the past so that their ideas, challenges, failures and successes might inspire and guide those who follow them. By harnessing the tools of history, searching the archives and identifying past successes and failures, we can see that antislavery campaigning has rich traditions which can provide activists and scholars with a kind of ‘usable past’, a ‘storehouse of antislavery tools’ that can be applied to the problems of the present.

The volume draws on the breadth of expertise in the Wilberforce Institute and its experience in using lessons from historic campaigns to end the transatlantic slave trade to engage the public in fighting slavery today. It includes chapters by Institute members and associates on a range of topics, including that of Professor John Oldfield on antislavery opinion building, of Dr Mary Wills on the role of military interventions in antislavery campaigns, of PhD student Rebecca Nelson on antislavery material culture persuasion, of PhD student Sarah Colley on the impact of the past on child sexual exploitation (with Emma Stephens from Nottingham), and of Professor Jean Allain on identifying a case of slavery.

Professor Oldfield, one of the co-investigators on the project, reflects on why it was so important for the Wilberforce Institute to be involved.

‘This is a hugely significant publication and one that vividly demonstrates the wealth of expertise available at the Wilberforce Institute, as well as our continuing role in shaping new ways of thinking about the relationship between historical and contemporary slavery. Our work has always been public-facing, and books of this kind reflect our determination to engage with a wide variety of audiences, whether educators, human rights organizations, NGOs or policymakers.’

The book is available is pdf format only and can be downloaded here.

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