Franco-British History
19 May 2011
Catherine Hall (UCL)
Troubled Memories: histories of the British slave trade and slavery

An example of the slave trade (Arab slave traders and their captives along the Ruvuma)

Catherine Hall asks and answers a lot of questions about the construction and reconstruction of histories and memory of the British slave trade.  How is the slavery business remembered?  What has been remembered and what has been forgotten?  How was the past of slavery constructed and presented in the present?  And what has been left silent? 

Between the 1780s-1830s slavery was intensely debated in Britain.  The focus of historical discourses was on the process of emancipation, such as the ‘heroes’ who had brought it about (e.g. Wilberforce), and the glorification of British liberalism.  The objectionable history of slavery itself is only more recently being debated and discussed properly.  This is where the Legacies of Slave Ownership Project  fits in.  Catherine Hall talks about memories and silences connected to those that directly or indirectly benefited from the slave trade.  Using the key examples of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) and the 1st Baron Macaulay, Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) who was also an English historian, essayist and politician, Hall demonstrates how compensation given to owners of slaves upon abolition could have a significant impact on the individual and collective whole and has helped to shape Britain today.   

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