Project launched to investigate Britain's debt to slavery





‘Legacies of British Slave Ownership’ is a new project launched, today, by a team of historians from UCL (University College London). The aim of the three-year project is to investigate Britain’s debt to slavery and create an ‘Encyclopaedia of British slave owners’, an online database which will identify all slave-owners in the British Caribbean in the 1830s at the time slavery was abolished. It is the first comprehensive attempt to study the extent and significance of slave-ownership in the formation of modern Britain.

Research will be based on the census of slave-owners in the British Empire, which was created by the Slave Compensation Commission in the 1830s in order to effectively manage the distribution of the money paid as compensation to slave-owners following the promulgation of the 1833 Abolition Act. Once the individual slave owners have been successfully identified, researchers will study how slave-related wealth was put to use. The project will aim to gather information about the affiliations, legacies and activities of all British slave-owners and to trace the major companies, art collections and institutions which originated in the aftermath of the abolition of slavery.

This second part of the project will focus on six main interrelated areas in which former British slave-owners may have contributed to the formation of modern Britain. ‘Commercial continuities’ will consider, first of all, the evolution of individual merchant firms and banks which received compensation. Secondly, ‘political affiliations and associational networks’ will explore the political participation of slave-owners in the 1820s and 1830s and trace their descendants’ participation in the politics of Victorian Britain. Thirdly, the project will research the cultural and institutional legacies of British slave-owners, including their role as collectors, philanthropists and founders or participants in new cultural and social institutions. ‘Historical lineages and memories of slavery’ will examine the role of slave-owners and their descendants as writers and historians in the construction of memories of the slavery. Lastly, researchers will study the imperial legacies of slave-owners as investors, administrators and settlers in other colonies outside the British West Indies, as well as their physical legacies in terms of the built environment associated with slave-owners, such as residential and commercial buildings and public monuments.


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