Manchester Workshop

By Catherine Hall

Manchester Central Library
On Saturday October 24 our fourth regional workshop was held in Manchester at the Central Library – one of Manchester’s impressive Victorian buildings which has recently been refurbished and is now home to digital hubs, local history activities, meeting rooms and a café with good food as well as the usual library facilities. We had a full day of talks and discussion, organised by Katie Donington, and despite a pretty early start for a Saturday morning we had an enthusiastic and interested audience. The day opened with presentations from the LBS team – I did a brief introduction about the project and Rachel Lang then talked about some of the possible uses of the database – this provoked many questions and much interest.  Katie rounded off this session with an introduction to the Hibbert family, a major slave-owning and mercantile family, their multiple Manchester connections and the ways in which they extended their business links and networks from Manchester to London and Jamaica. 28We were really fortunate after coffee to have the black feminist artist Lubaina Himid in conversation with Anna Arabindan-Kesson about Lubaina’s installation – Cotton.Com. Lubaina has worked as a politically engaged artist since the 1980s and not only did she bring  50 of the 100 pieces she had made from Cotton.Com to show us, but she talked about the connections between that work and other projects she has done. Much of that work has been preoccupied with those who have been rendered invisible by the ways in which histories have been constructed.

Cotton.Com, through the medium of 100 painted and framed textile blocs, evokes the conversations that might have happened between the cotton workers in Manchester, struggling in the new mills clustered around the canal in Ancoates, and the enslaved African men, women and children who were tending and picking the cotton on the plantations of the American South. When the installation was first shown the blocks were exhibited across walls with just one powerful quote from the many documentary sources that had been used: ‘He said I looked like a painting by Murillo as I carried water for the hoe gang, just because I balanced the bucket on my head.’ It was a very inspiring and moving session – reminding us all of the importance of the work that artists do in re-presenting our histories.

Robert WedderburnIn the afternoon Melinda Elder, who has done much work over the years on the slavery business in the North West, did a wonderfully illustrated talk on the Wildman family and their rise from being modest tenant farmers in Lancashire to becoming substantial members of the English gentry, via Jamaica and the spoils of King Sugar. Peter Maw then filled out the story of the transatlantic merchants and their Manchester connections, clarifying how significant these trade networks were to the patterns of colonial and capitalist development. The final talks of the day came from Alan Rice, a friend to LBS from the beginning, and the Director of the Institute for Black Atlantic Studies at the University of Central Lancashire. Alan talked about the renowned African-American activist and writer Frederick Douglass while his colleague Raphael Hoermann spoke about the impact of the revolution in Haiti and some of the black radicals in the UK such as Robert Wedderburn.

We ended the day with an open discussion. All thorough the day there were lots of questions and comments for all the speakers – one of the best characteristics of our workshops from the perspective of the LBS team is the level of audience engagement. In the last session it was good to hear from almost everyone who had been able to stay to the end. We all know what it means to give up a Saturday! Many different voices and experiences were heard, from an Irish woman who reminded us of the connections between Ireland and other sites of colonial oppression to the lively talk about possible ways of extending the reach of black histories and keeping the connections that had been made alive. Natalie Zacek gave us some terrific closing thoughts and eventually, so absorbed were we in our talk that we had to be shooed out of the building before it was locked up for the day!

Legacies of the Slave Past in the Post-Slave Present

By Nick Draper

One of the aims for LBS has been to connect more fully with the burgeoning scholarship in the US on slavery and American capitalism, and in turn to give LBS more visibility among academic audiences in North America. Accordingly, Catherine Hall and I accepted gratefully an invitation from David ScottDavid Scott of Columbia and Herman Bennett of CUNY to participate in joint CUNY/Columbia symposium in New York in early October. The genesis of the symposium was the sense on the part of the organisers (and shared by us) that LBS’ work needed to be thought through in the context of wider discussions of repair and reparation now underway, in the Caribbean, the US and Europe.

On Thursday 1st Catherine gave a wonderful and well-received lecture at the CUNY Graduate Centre on ‘What is a Man?’, which explored the importance of the writing in particular of the pro-slavery advocate Edward Long in constructing harsh racial stereotypes of enslaved Africans. On Friday 2nd, 6 scholars presented papers that to greater or lesser extents engaged with our work, and I attempted to provide a response to the papers and their relationship to our concerns in LBS. Jennifer Morgan of NYU gave a suggestive paper on the relationship between ‘political economy’ and the building of the slave-economy in the 17thC; Sven Beckert of Harvard reflected on the historiography of capitalism and slavery; Kathleen Wilson of SUNY at Stony Brook delivered a characteristically trenchant paper on liberty, slavery and Britishness; Natasha Lightfoot at Columbia supplied a densely-researched and conceptually nimble paper on Antiguan exceptionalism in dispensing with Apprenticeship; Melanie Newton of the University of Toronto complicated the CARICOM reparations claim with an wide-ranging sketch of the position of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean under both colonial rule and under post-independence nation states; and Richard Drayton at Kings College London closed with a powerful call for re-examination of the roots of modern inequalities in slavery and its colonial aftermath.

Together these papers gave Catherine and me a sense not only of the diversity and depth of American scholarship on race and slavery, but also an indication of the sometimes divergent concerns within that corpus of scholarship. In face of the very different approaches and adjacencies of the papers, I addressed the question of in what senses we – or at least I – conceive of LBS’s work as ‘reparative’ history. The audience, which stayed with us with great patience and commitment through the day, included Robin Blackburn and Eric Foner, who in relation to the question of slavery and industrialisation engaged fully in one case and resisted equally fully in the other.

We were privileged to be able to speak about LBS’ work to the audiences on both days: it both provided reinforcement of our own belief in the importance of the LBS project and furnished a salutary reminder that our work is only one contribution to a much larger scholarly endeavour to rethink slavery and modernity. Parts of the symposium will possibly be published in a future volume of the Caribbean cultural journal Small Axe.

Visiting Lucky Valley, Longville and Sutton’s Plantations in Clarendon, Jamaica

By James Dawkins

Eighteenth-century Caribbean sugar plantations were sites of intense labour and agricultural activity that often demanded twenty-four hour attention from the estate managers and the enslaved, particularly during the cane harvesting season (February to May).[1] It was the profitability of sugar planting which attracted so many British men to the colonies, but only a minority were able to amass enough wealth to return to the metropole to become absentee landlords. The colony of Jamaica possessed one of the highest proportions of non-resident proprietors, Edward Long (1734-1813) and Henry Dawkins II (1728-1814) being two of them. This blog is about my visit, in the June of this year, to the ruins of three plantations formerly possessed by these individuals and the subsequent generations of their families.

The Longs and Dawkins were two of Jamaica’s oldest planting dynasties, settling on the island shortly after its seizure from the Spanish in 1655. Both families established landed holdings in the parish of Clarendon, the Longs possessing Lucky Valley and Longville and the Dawkins’ owning Sutton’s amongst nine others.

Plantation Locations

Barry Higman’s book Jamaica Surveyed provides an account of the Lucky Valley estate and its management under Edward Long.[2] Unfortunately, no such historical record exists for the Sutton’s estate although it was mentioned by Edward Long, in his seminal text The History of Jamaica (1774), to have been the site of “the first rebellion of importance, on record, [which] happened in the year 1690, when between three and four hundred slaves, belonging to…  Sutton’s plantation in Clarendon… killed the white man entrusted with the care of it and seized upon a large store of fire arms… [after which they] proceeded to the next plantation, and murdered the overseer…”[3]

Audene Brooks and Dexter PlumberThese three estates are significant historical sites and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit them with my primary PhD supervisor Professor Catherine Hall, who has a particular interest in the transatlantic activities of the Long family. Our trip was made possible by Dexter Plumber, a city taxi driver, and Audene Brooks, a Senior Archaeologist at the Jamaica National Heritage Trust.

Trace MorganAll four of us were based in Kingston which is approximately 50-miles from where the former estates lay. Giving consideration to traffic, the distance to the former plantations, and their isolated location in the outback of Clarendon we set off early in the morning. Approximately 3 hours later we arrived in the area in which Lucky Valley plantation once stood, which is situated 20-miles north-east of May Pen, the capital of the parish of Clarendon. Once we reached the township we were tasked with finding the ruins, with the 18th century plan of Lucky Valley plantation composed for Edward Long as our only map. Fortunately, we met Trace Morgan, who told us that he knew roughly where they ruins lay and kindly agreed to come along and help us locate them.

Ivan CalabalerroIt took around another hour to reach the Lucky Valley estate. The ruins, as you can imagine, were covered in vegetation. Fortunately, Mr Morgan knew a man, by the name of Ivan Calabalerro, who lives on a large hill above Lucky Valley; Mr Morgan called over to him to ask if he knew anything about the specific location of the plantation ruins. Around 20 minutes later, Mr Calabalerro came down from the hill top on his donkey and greeted us saying that he knew of some old ruins laying nearby.

Lucky Valley stone structureWhat we found next was astonishing. In a partially open field, which also contained scrubs and long grass, was a strange dome shaped bush. Mr Calabalerro pointed to a part of the bush from which a stone structure was visible. I pulled back the vegetation inside of which lay part of the Lucky Valley plantation. One of the structures that emerged was a large elongated holding tank with circular ends. Unfortunately, the dense vegetation prevented me from going further. More stone ruins were found close by. Mr Calabalerro and Mrs Brooks believed them to be the foundations of more outhouses and potential residencies of either the enslaved or the managers those who once lived on the estate. Like most former sugar plantations, there is not much left at Lucky Valley by way of ruins. Thus, we pressed on to Longville, our next stop.

Longville is now the name of a settlement which received its title from the Long family’s plantation of the same name. The remains of this estate were even more elusive than those of Lucky Valley and after 45 minutes or so of scouring the vicinity we decided to move on to Sutton’s plantation located a short distance south-west of Longville.

The surviving source material shows that the Dawkins family procured the Sutton’s sugar plantation through a combination of payments to and inheritance from John Sutton between 1721 and 1750.[4] By the turn of the 18th century, Sutton’s had become one the Dawkins’ leading plantations in terms of its sugar production and held a labour force of 197 enslaved people.[5].Boiling HouseWe arrived at Sutton’s in the middle of the afternoon. Dexter pulled up close to the sugar works, which are now all over grown, and let Catherine, Audene and myself out of the van. As we got closer to the ruins, Catherine and I decided to explore the interior of the boiling house, which involved walking through vegetation, a series of archways and fallen walls. Before we knew it we were standing in the middle of a large sugar processing house in which three large circular concrete frames are positioned against one wall. The last time I visited, I was told by the owner of the land that surrounds the boiling house, and who has been living in the area for over 35 years, that the circular structures lined up against the wall held the large copper pans used to boil the sugar. I wandered off on my own to take in the experience and pay my respects to my enslaved ancestors who had lived and laboured on the estate.

Interior of an Antiguan sugar boiling house, by William Clark, London 1823 (British Library)I felt very uneasy and disturbed with the little I know about what occurred on this plantation, and indeed the entire plantation complex that was established in the Americas and Caribbean. The sun was blazing hot and the absence of any breeze made me contemplate the kinds of conditions that existed in the boiling house when it was in operation – a closed building with blistering hot temperatures roaring from the copper pans, and little or no protection from the scorching cane juice, with the whip of the overseer driving the labour of my foreparents. A stream of thoughts ran through my head – what must it be like to wake up to the same job day in and day out with no alternative way of existence? The terror, compulsion, brutality, vulnerability, feelings of being exposed and degraded, random acts of violence, the inability to form a stable family, being denied the opportunity to read and write, the threat of having one’s partner and/or children sold off with the possibility of never seeing them again.

Visiting all three plantations was a very moving and poignant experience which allowed me to come face-to-face with one of the tangible legacies of British slavery. It was also an opportunity to commemorate the successful struggle for freedom eventually obtained by my ancestors in 1838. Indeed, I found some solace in the fact that this age old form of abhorrent commerce failed to break the spirit of liberation and hope for freedom that lit the heart of my ancestors.

[1] Justin Roberts, Sunup-to-Sundown: Plantation Management Strategies and Slave Work Routines in Barbados, Jamaica and Virginia, 1776-1810, (Published PhD Thesis, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 2008), p.86.

[2] B. W. Higman, Jamaica Surveyed: Plantation Maps and Plans of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, (Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2001), p.84-91.

[3] Edward Long, The History of Jamaica, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010; Originally published in 1774), p.446.

[4] MS181. Copy of Jamaica title Deeds, 1671-1750, Vol.9, Indenture for the Sale of Land from John Sutton to Henry Dawkins, (May, 1743), Lib: 116, Fol.131, p.101-102; MSS.D.D.Dawkins., C43, Bundle 3:  II 5/7, The Will of John Sutton, 1750, (Oxford: Bodleian Library); MS.D.D.Dawkins., C.43, [Jamaica II, 1-5], II, 5/10, bundle 19, Abstract of Title of Henry Dawkins Esq. to Estates in Jamaica Devised to him by his Great Uncle John Sutton Esqr, (Oxford: Bodleian Library).

[5] MSS.D.D.Dawkins. Register of Stock Upon the Dawkins’ Jamaican Estates – A List of Slaves on Sutton’s Estate, 31st December, 1800, (Over Norton: Private Family Manuscripts), p. 23-27.

Hackney and Slavery

By: Kristy Warren

A version of this blog originally appeared on the Royal Museums Greenwich Collections Blog as part of International Slavery Remembrance Day.

Last autumn, members of the LBS Team, along with Hackney Museum and Archives, community consultants and teachers, were part of a Share Academy funded project entitled Local Roots / Global Routes. The main outcome of the project was a teaching resource for Key Stage 3 students (aged 13 – 14), which explores links to slavery, abolition and the black presence in Hackney.

Extra funding from the Arts Council allowed us to engage the students at two Hackney schools through six week workshops. My colleague Kate Donington and I worked along with students at Our Lady’s Convent High School and Hackney B Six,  their teachers – Kathryn Gayton and Lucy Capes, two creative practitioners – Anthony Anaxagorou and Akala, and staff at Hackney Archives –  principally Elizabeth Green – to create spaces in which the young people could critically engage with the subject of slavery, while also allowing them to creatively respond to what they’d learned through poetry and drama.

Student viewing an archival document

As the workshops were run after school and were voluntary, we started by asking all the students why they were interested in the topic. One student’s answer has stuck with me: ‘I want to understand why I’m here and where I came from’. This student’s answer is so important for our team; for as historians you are involved in not only telling simple ‘facts’, but also in either reinforcing or breaking down stereotypes. In this case it is the pervasive narrative that the history of people of African descent doesn’t matter.

Thus it was important to speak about how Africa and Africans were placed outside of history to justify the mass exploitation of millions of people. The first lesson that the team conducted, as well as later sessions by Akala, reinforced the importance of treating the history of people of African descent as one that is first and foremost about human beings. As the dehumanisation of Africans has been one of the lasting legacies of transatlantic slavery, making sure that people of African descent are subjects rather than objects of history is a part of the work needed to undo that process. This is why, as others have noted before me, teaching children and young people about slavery must be set within a longer history of African peoples. This involves highlighting the myriad of ways in which Africans contributed to the world, while also speaking about how they lived their everyday lives.

Reinserting slavery into the story of Britain was also emphasised. It was important to stress both the involvement of British people in the business and profits of slavery, as well as giving evidence of the legacies of this connection. For although resources exist and are used by some teachers (both within schools and the wider community) slavery in the British colonies has not been a key element of the how the story of the British past is taught. In this context, it is not surprising that what is known as the slave trade and the wider history of slavery in the Americas is often conflated and the emphasis placed on abolition. This erasure has meant that the role played by the enslaved in the creation of modern Britain has either been ignored or underplayed.

Once again, reinforcing agency was key. So in addition to speaking about how enslaved people’s labour and lives were consumed in the production of mainly luxury goods; it is also important to note how, from the very beginning, they resisted this system in a variety of ways and asserted their humanity in how they formed families and kin networks, practised their beliefs and lived their lives.

Destruction of Roehampton Estate ©British Library

The students were also exposed to the history and legacies of slavery that exist in Hackney. They learnt about the ways and extent to which people of African descent, abolitionists, and slave-owners who lived in Hackney are remembered today in street names, school names, and on tombstones. Traces of people with connections to slavery in documents found in the Hackney Archives included a petition from a young woman from Jamaica, a will that included property in land and enslaved people in Jamaica, and a house deed signed by a sugar factor living in Hackney who was involved in selling goods produced by enslaved people.

Abney Park Tomb of Joanna Vassa, daughter of Olaudah Equiano, a prominent figure in the abolitionist movement

The creative outputs of the students show the journeys that they themselves are on. Some reflected on the experiences of enslaved people and other people of African descent. Others emphasised how being exposed to a new angle of this history had changed the perception they had of themselves. As one student expressed in song : ‘now I know my history, … and now no one can tell me who I am’.

Nottingham Workshop

By Hannah Young

The second workshop of the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership’s autumn series was held at the New Arts Exchange in Nottingham on Saturday September 19th. The jam-packed day was well-attended, with around 60 participants across the day, and contained lots of lively and engaging discussion and debate. We would like to thank all of the attendees for making it such an enjoyable and thought-provoking event.

The day began with the attending members of the LBS team (Keith McClelland, James Dawkins and Hannah Young) exploring the impact of slave-ownership in the Midlands and the surrounding area. Keith McClelland kicked off proceedings by explaining a little bit about the LBS project and introducing the public database to those who might be unfamiliar with it. He then provided us a glimpse of how the database will look after the results of the project’s second phase are launched in 2016. Estates rather than individuals will provide the focal point of the new database. Users will be able to explore Caribbean estate-ownership between 1763 and 1833, accessing information about those who owned the estates, those who managed them, and those who were enslaved upon them.

James Dawkins continued by looking in more detail at the slave-owners of the Midlands. He highlighted the danger of assuming that slave-owing was only an activity undertaken in port cities like London, Liverpool and Bristol and showed us some impressive maps which demonstrated the spread of slave-ownership in the Midlands. I then spoke briefly about one particular slave-owning  family. Sisters Sarah Holte and Elizabeth Newton lived in the Staffordshire village of Kings Bromley and in the 1780s owned two Barbadian plantations and 428 enslaved men, women and children.

Newtons Valuation of Land and Enslaved People 1784

Helen Bates and Lisa Robinson spoke about their experience of working with the Slave Trade Legacies project, aided by five of the group’s 100+ members. The Slave Trade Legacies project is comprised of a group of volunteers, mainly of Afro-Caribbean heritage, who are keen to explore why their own histories are missing from heritage sites in the UK. They spoke eloquently and passionately about the process of equipping themselves with knowledge about slavery for the sake of critiquing such sites. They have made seven trips so far to visitor attractions with links to slavery and the slave trade.

Newstead Abbey by Will RobsonThe recounting of their experiences of visiting Nottinghamshire’s Newstead Abbey was particularly powerful. Newstead Abbey, now owned by Nottingham City Council, was owned in the 19th century by Thomas Wildman, a Jamaican plantation-owner who spent £100,000 of the plantation’s profits restoring the house. Following the abolition of the slavery in 1834 he was awarded almost £5000 in compensation. Yet when members of the Slave Trade Legacies group visited Newstead Abbey they saw no mention of Wildman’s links with slavery and the slave trade. After enquiring about this omission they received a response from the site saying that because Widman never visited Jamaica these links were not important. They, unsurprisingly, found this response disappointing and upsetting. On the other hand, they highlighted Boughton House as a local example of how sites can reflect black history links effectively and sensitively without awkwardness or embarrassment.

We also watched two very powerful videos made by the Slave Trade Legacies group about their experiences, The Colour of Money and The Global Cotton Connections. I would highly, highly recommend that anyone who is remotely interested in the issues of slavery and heritage take 20 minutes out of their day to watch them. You will not regret it.

After lunch was the turn of the Anti-Slavery Usable Past project, which has members at the  University of Hull, Queens University and the University of Nottingham. The project’s research leader at Nottingham, Professor Zoe Trodd, looks at the ways investigating historic forms of slavery and antislavery can help the 36 million people currently enslaved worldwide today. Both she and postdoctoral researcher Katie Donnington highlighted the significant role of visual culture.

They drew attention to the extent to which contemporary anti-slavery visual culture replicates the visual culture of the British and U.S. 19th century anti-slavery movements, as well as many of the issues associated them. They demonstrated how many problematic tropes, from paternalism to supplication to voyeurism are regularly reproduced in images used by contemporary anti-slavery campaigners. The imagery of Josiah Wedgewood’s ‘Am I Not a Man and A Brother’ medallion – the supplicant slave – is, for example, echoed in the many images of enslaved people with hands clasped, passive and powerlessness. Yet both Zoe and Kate offered alternatives, arguing that what was key was remembering, and representing, the agency of the enslaved person or people. Kate drew attention to the work of Jacob Lawrence and Lubaina Himid, both of whom offer ways of thinking about the potential of a new visual culture of anti-slavery which celebrates the agency of the enslaved person rather than simply appealing to that of the audience. PhD student Michael Gill provided one example of modern slavery, drawing attention to the plight of the 1.5 million labourers exploited by the kafala system in Qatar and exploring the issues that are preventing meaningful reform from occurring.

Jedediah Strutt's North Mill with the East Mill behind by ChevinNottingham University’s Professor Suzanne Seymour, head of the Global Cotton Connections project, spoke about the often neglected legacies of slavery in the rural and provincial areas of Britain, such as the East Midlands. She also highlighted how only looking at those directly involved in slavery or slave trading neglects the many other links areas like the Midlands had with slavery. Whether thinking about trade goods, textiles or the black presence in 18th and 19th century Britain, Suzanne emphasised that there are a much wider range of connections than have traditionally been recognised. She used the example of the mahogany furniture in Derbyshire’s Bolsover Castle and the cotton used to supply the Derwent Valley Mills to show how products derived from the labour of enslaved peoples, in Brazil and North America as well as the Caribbean, were commonplace in 18th and 19th century Britain. She argued that there is still a great deal of work to be done in ‘entangling the threads of slavery’, although she also suggested that perhaps the greatest challenge is ensuring such research is open, public and accessible.

We finished the day with an animated open discussion. One of the main issues that came up was how all the people, across both the Midlands and the country, with mutual interests in slavery and black history can find out about and get in touch with each other. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to such problems. Co-ordinating such interactions is very difficult, particularly given the current paucity of funding, However, James Dawkins kindly offered to compile a list of the emails of any interested attendees, which he has subsequently circulated. We hope this will help people to keep in touch and aid the establishment of new connections and relationships.

Scotland and Slavery Workshop

By Kristy Warren and Keith McClelland

Runaway Slave Advertisements

The Legacies of British Slave-ownership team recently launched a series of workshops which are being held this autumn across the UK. The aim of the workshops is to provide an update of the work being conducted on the second phase of the project while also collaborating with colleagues working on topics concerning slave-ownership, slavery, and the slavery business.  You can find out more about the series on our events page.

The first workshop was held this past Saturday (12 September 2015) at The Lighthouse in Glasgow in collaboration with Simon Newman, Stephen Mullen and Nelson Mundell who are the team of researchers on the University of Glasgow based project Runaway Slaves in Britain. The event was very well attended with up to 60 people there in the course of the day. The atmosphere was very friendly, lively and accessible.

The day began with a session run by LBS team members Catherine Hall and Keith McClelland. Catherine set the perimeters for the day noting that ‘re-establishing the place of slavery in Scottish history’ was one of the main aims of those who were giving presentations throughout the day.  She then gave a snapshot of her work investigating the role played by writings of slave-owners and their descendants in justifying the enslavement of Africans due to their ‘barbarity’. She chose William Young as an example of the many soldiers, medical men and indentured servants who left Scotland for the Caribbean to make their fortunes.  She outlined how the wealth he gained, in part through his marriage to a widow in Antigua, was used to gain a place in the English gentry and later, how the family wrote against the rights of the indigenous people of St. Vincent and in defence of slavery in the Caribbean. She also noted how the Young family does not appear in the compensation records as they had lost their fortune by that time, but that the work currently being done allows us to learn how three generations of the family profited from slavery.

Meanwhile Keith gave a sneak peek of the work being conducted on the second phase of the project. He outlined the wider work currently being conducted by the LBS team on estate ownership between 1763 and 1833. He showed the audience how the information is being organised in the database according to estate. This allows the user to see who owned the estates, those who managed them, and those who enslaved there throughout the period. He then gave examples specific to Scotland noting that Scots were disproportionally represented among absentee slave-owners; while Scotland’s population was about 10% of Britain as a whole, 15% of absentee owners were Scottish.

Tom Devine, of the University of Edinburgh, spoke about research contained in a collection he has just edited,  Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past: the Caribbean Connection,  which will be published in October.  He emphasised that Scotland had both ‘amnesia and denial’ with relation to its involvement in slavery. Exploring the country’s links to slavery, especially those with the Caribbean, where a great number off Scots benefited from the mass enslavement of Africans, is a vital task for historians. He also indicated the key role of the slavery business in relation to the extraordinary transformation of the Scottish economy between roughly 1760 and 1830.

The members of the Runaway Slaves in Britain Project team then gave an introduction to the research that they’ve conducted during the initial eight months of the project.  Newspaper advertisements concerning runaway enslaved people are being studied to learn more about the individuals involved. As their project develops it is bound to deepen our knowledge of the presence of those of African and Caribbean descent in eighteenth century Scotland and enhance our understanding of issues about slavery and freedom and racialised identities.

Two teachers gave presentation about teaching slavery in Scottish schools. Claire Wood, Principle Teacher of History, Modern Studies and RME at Jordon Hill School, focused on how primary evidence concerning slavery and the slave trade is used to teach research skills. She explained the assessment framework that teachers in in Scotland need to adhere to and how the sources are used for students at different assessment levels. For instance, she referred to the poem Send Back the Money (1846) and showed how the original was shortened and simplified to make it accessible to secondary school students. She ended with an appeal to academics to visit students in the classroom as such engagement is invaluable for their appreciation of what is being taught.

Katie Hunt, who teaches History at St Thomas of Aquin’s High School, Edinburgh, explained that teachers need to be confident in their knowledge of historical processes and as a result, the teaching of African history was easy to side step due to a lack of confidence.   She also noted the need for teachers to have access to the research conducted by those in universities. She explained that teachers need to be historical researchers themselves, and in order to do this, need access to high quality resources.

The last speaker of the day was Michael Hopcroft, a PhD candidate at Glasgow Caledonian University, who is investigating Highland Scots who were slave-owners in the Caribbean. His talk focused British Guiana (present day Guyana) as Highland Scots in particular, and Scots more generally, played a notable role in slave-ownership in that colony and its sugar plantation. Showing us the digital maps that he has developed of plantations, which included being able to match historic map of the plantations to a contemporary one, gave a vivid demonstration of plantation boundaries, the clustering of plantations along the coast, and illustrated too the continuation of naming patterns in the present.

The day ended with a lively group discussion in which participants shared why they had chosen to attend the event, what they had gained from the presentations, and how they might use what they’d learned going forward. We think that everybody found the day enlivening, informative, and that they were very enthusiastic about what they had heard. What was important too was the sense of people from different constituencies talking to each other. Teachers, academics, family historians, and people who were simply interested in the subject extended the dialogue about the importance of slave-ownership and the slavery business in ways in which we all hope will be taken out into the community as whole.

LBS Work Experience Week

In the week beginning 30 June, the LBS team was joined by five Year 12 (17 year-old) students from City and Islington College in London as well as by a student who has just graduated from high school in New York. They all worked hard and asked many questions which challenge the way we view our own research. Here is their blog.

Studying A-level History

At college, we study A-level History which allows us to cover an array of topics in the modern period (19th and 20th centuries). We have previously learnt about the American civil rights movement (1945-68), the decline of Tsarism and rise of Bolshevism in Russia (1884-1924) and the development of nationalism in India under British rule (1900-47). While we found these subjects to be interesting, the course often lacked flexibility and creativity as it was naturally catered to a rigid exam structure with limited opportunity to expand beyond the narrow scope of  questions. We found it disappointing that a year’s worth of learning was condensed into about two and a half hours of exam time, with much of the course not even referred to. Of course we cannot radically reverse the exam system and study whatever we choose, but the way we currently learn is too confined.

To improve the way history is taught at this level, we feel that there should be greater use of independent and group research projects,  debates, critical discussions and presentations. There should also be a greater emphasis on wider reading and more guidance into how to improve our understanding of historical matters. We were given plenty of resources such as reading lists and access to presentations on Moodle, but we would like to see the inclusion of more primary sources through visits to archives and so on. We found ourselves relying too much on the textbooks provided as they strictly adhered to the syllabus and thus felt that they were our best chance at securing a strong grade. Although we cannot escape the inevitability of exams, they allow little room for us to properly express reasoned judgement on historical controversies because of time constraints. Furthermore, many question the value of history today and believe it to be a subject that consists of nothing more than studying the dead and slogging through dusty books. To tackle this apathy, we want to see more lessons on the relevance of what we learn in history and how it relates to or affects modern society. For example, we can explicitly link the plight of the civil rights movement in the mid 20th century to current racial tensions or pressure group activity.

Our experience with the LBS project and thoughts on how the subject of slavery should be taught     

During the week, our role involved developing profiles on individual slave-owners in the Caribbean, absentee owners in Britain and others involved in the system to the LBS database. We obtained information primarily from a text entitled Jamaica Plantership by Benjamin McMahon – an Irish soldier who moved to Jamaica in search of new opportunities in 1819. He primarily worked as an overseer and a book-keeper on a variety of plantations on the island, later recording his experiences of his eighteen years there. As well as reading his work, we also made use of archival evidence, censuses, slave registers and geo-referencing with maps. In addition, we visited various sites around London relating to slavery and its legacies including former slave-owners’ houses around the Bloomsbury area, the Senate House library (where we read letters from Thomas Lane – an absentee planter), the Hackney library archives and the Museum of London Docklands.

Not only have we contributed to a public historical resource, we have improved our knowledge of this period of controversial history. It is this controversy that has made us consider how the subject of slavery should be taught to young people of all ages. Slavery is naturally an uncomfortable topic for many; however, we feel that it is not something that should be avoided or shied away from because of its incredible impact and significance that still resonates today. We should address the subject face on in a meaningful way that doesn’t overlook the horrors of slavery and Britain’s involvement, but also explores the motives and attitudes of individual slave-owners.  This investigation will allow for meaningful critical discussion of the history of the slavery system.

Many features of  transatlantic slavery go unnoticed by a lot of people. For example, we were surprised to learn that the largest number of  enslaved Africans were in fact sent to Brazil by the Portuguese, contrary to our belief that North America was the main destination. We were also unaware of how slavery was intertwined with the development of Britain as a nation and how its legacies, whether they be commercial, political, cultural and imperial, can be recognised today. As we understand, this is what the LBS project seeks to highlight.

by Robert, Hannah, Ogo, Simone, David and Molly

(We are all grateful for this opportunity to be involved in the LBS project and would like to thank Rachel Lang for all her support and information provided throughout this experience. We would also like to thank Kristy, Nick, Keith, Hannah and Cari for running very interesting and engaging sessions throughout this week.)