The Legacies of the British Slave Trade: The Structures and Significance of British Investment in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, c. 1550-1807

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: History


What was the structure of British investment in the slave trade? What was the significance of the slave trade to Britain's economic, political, and cultural development? This project seeks to answer these two questions by collating and improving existing data and completing new research to create a comprehensive prosopography of the 6,524 British investors in the slave trade, c.1550-1807. The project will use this data set to engage with seven overlapping research contexts. First, it traces capital outflows from the trade into other sectors of the British economy to assess the trade's significance to British economic development. Second, the project offers the first comprehensive assessment of capital inputs into the slave trade to understand the changing structures of investment into the trade, and to situate the slave trade within the context of other commercial enterprises. Third, the project will explore the role of slave trade investment in the shaping of national and local politics and culture, including the liberalization of the trade in the C17 and abolition in the C19. Fourth, the project will deepen understanding of the role of race and empire in the formulation of British identity by examining the significance of commodification to the racialized depiction of enslaved Africans that emerged in Britain during the C17 and C18. Fifth, the project systematically explores the role of women not only as investors, but also as transmitters of slaving wealth and as bonds in the social and familial networks constructed around the slave trade to offer new perspectives on the importance of gender to early modern commercial enterprises. Sixth, the project's prosopography and network analysis will allow historians of the slave trade to influence a wider interdisciplinary community interested in how individual actors make decisions based on their social, cultural, and economic relationships. Seventh, this project's data set provides historians with a unique opportunity to understand the processes that helped integrate Britain's national market in the C17 and C18. Engaging with these seven research strands, this project seeks to engage a range of scholars working across disciplines. Building on the success of two precursor projects on the Legacies of British Slavery [RES-062-23-1764; ES/J017736/1], this project will therefore offer a new emphasis on the slave trade's commercial context and of the networks that structured investment within the slave trade, while highlighting the degree to which the business was embedded within the British economy. The project team will publicize these findings through ten world-leading research articles that will reshape the salience of the slave trade in the fields of economic, political, and cultural history. The project will simultaneously nurture the academic careers of three PDRAs through an innovative, nationwide team structure. It will form a stakeholder panel and engage the inhabitants of former slave trading ports in the implementation of the project through a series of workshops, and establish local and national networks that will survive the project-life. At the project's conclusion, the project will make the data set freely available, creating an important new resource for exploring the histories of colonial slavery, the commercial and industrial revolutions, the C18 urban renaissance, African slavery's role in the development of British institutions and culture, and local and regional pasts. The project will thus inscribe the history of the transatlantic slave trade fully into the story of British social and economy development, helping British society confront, disclose, and memorialize the slave trade.


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