Commissioning, production, content and audience reception of bicentenary events commemorating the abolition of the slave trade in the UK, 1807-2007

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: History


The bicentenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade is a unique opportunity to fund a research project that critically evaluates the phenomena of commemorating the slave trade and the production and content of events across a wide variety of creative industries and heritage sites in the UK throughout 2007/08. In addition, the project builds theoretical methods for understanding institutional commemorations that will both inform academic understanding of commemoration as an act and process, and will matter to those in the public sphere who commission and produce commemorative events.

The project will develop existing methods of capturing audience receptions of problematic pasts, in the context of new critical methodologies developed by the PI, and will share these with the partner museums.

Of the 5 partner museums, 3 are creating new permanent galleries, most significantly the 2nd floor of the NMM into an Atlantic World Gallery and an Indian World Gallery; the 3rd floor reorientation of the BECM called 'Breaking the Chains'; and the annex for the NML called The International Slavery Museum. These reorientations of national museums are groundbreaking because until recently the subject of slavery has been largely absent. Now in 2007, not only will the exhibitions acknowledge the fact of slavery but national museums will put the transatlantic slave trade centre stage. Museums want to participate in discussions via IPUP about how to display problematic and uncomfortable content about the experience of slavery.

Significantly therefore, the AHRC KT research project and the website at will provide a forum for discussions between academics and practitioners, and also develop existing methods for capturing audience receptions of problematic pasts and share these methods with the partner museums. The audience reception phase of the project will produce research data on identity issues relating to race and multiculturalism. This research will be shared not only with the partner museums but also with policy advisors in DCMS and DCLG. Although the Department of Education has not yet confirmed the timetable for when the transatlantic slave trade will become a compulsory part of the National Curriculum for History, understanding slavery and abolition is already informing teaching and learning on Citizenship.

The collection of data and the development of intellectual ideas will inform both the academic and also the public discussion about problematic pasts and contemporary Britain. This research project therefore represents part of a longer-term strategy for IPUP, which will organize a conference of international scholars (joint with the GLC, Yale) for September 2008 to reflect on the problem of slavery in the western thought tradition, and commission the publication of a volume of scholarly articles after the completion of the AHRC KT project. This will fit with the IPUP launch events for 2007/08 which consist of a series of international conferences and events (organized in collaboration with the IHR) on 'The Past and the Future of Britishness'.

This IPUP research project on the commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade will be complemented by the Bicentenary events organized for 2007 at the University of York which will consist of a series of public lectures on Slavery from 6 February; a summer school for Adult Learners, 2-6 July, Centre for Lifelong Learning, 'Fighting Slavery: Past, Present, and Future 1807-2007'; and an International Conference, 12-14 April, 'Abolitions. 1807-2007: Ending the Slave Trade in the Transatlantic World'. Speakers include novelist Caryl Phillips and leading academics Simon Schama, Philip Morgan, David Murray, David Attwell, Jim Walvin, Henrice Altink, Marcus Wood, Vincent Carretta, Trevor Phillips, Kwabena Adurang-Parry, Adiele Afgibo. All are participating in the website discussions.


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