What Should We Do about Slavery? Slavery, Abolition and Public History

Part of the Reenactment History book series (REH)


The two hundredth anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007 was marked by a host of British institutions. The Abolition Act of 1807 has been described as the most important Act of Parliament ever. Not surprisingly, many major state and civic institutions offered their own distinctive version of 1807. The Houses of Parliament led the way, followed, among others, by the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Maritime Museum (both Greenwich and Liverpool). In fact dozens of institutions, down to tiny local schools, offered their own interpretation of the events leading to 1807 — and the significance of that Act. All this was in addition to a veritable blizzard of media coverage, and publications plus hundreds of lectures and a string of academic gatherings. Community-based organizations, ranging from the ‘Equiano Society’ to Wilberforce’s old school in Pocklington, were equally keen to join in. Never, at any point in my adult lifetime, has slavery and the slave trade occupied so central a place in such a broadly based social and political debate as it did in Britain in 2007.1


Slave Trade Public History Atlantic Trade Chattel Slavery Slave Ship 
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  1. 2.
    See for example, E. Kowaleski Wallace (2006) The British Slave Trade and Public Memory (New York: Columbia University Press).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See K. C. Barton and L. Levstik (2004) Teaching History for the Common Good (London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See A. Boal (2002) Games for Actors and Non-Actors (New York: Routledge).Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    For the most recent study, see D. B. Davis (2006) Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (New York: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    The statistics of the trade are to be found in D. Eltis, S. D. Behrendt, D. Richardson and H. S. Klein (2000) The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade: A Database on CD-Rom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    See K. Morgan (2001) Slavery, Atlantic Trade and the British Economy, 1660–1800 (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 9.
    See W. A. Pettigrew (2007) ‘Parliament and Escalation of the Slave Trade, 1690–1717’ in S. Farrell, M. Unwin and J. Walvin (eds) The British Slave Trade: Abolition, Parliament and the People (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press).Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    See D. Dabydeen, J. Gilmore and C. Jones (eds) (2007) The Oxford Companion to British Black History (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
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    See J. Walvin (1997) Fruits of Empire: Exotic Produce and British Taste, 16601800 (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 12.
    See N. Elias (2000) The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    The publication which emerged from this enterprise is A. Tibbles (ed.) (1994) Transatlantic Slavery: Against Human Dignity (London: HMSO).Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    For the other side of the story of slavery in this region, see R. Issac (2004) Landon Carter’s Uneasy Kingdom. Revolution and Rebellion on a Virginian Plantation (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
  13. 17.
    See S. Magelssen (2006) ‘Making History in the Second Person: Post-Touristic Considerations for Living Historical Interpretation’, Theatre Journal, 58, pp. 295–6.Google Scholar
  14. 19.
    For an account of Thomas Jefferson’s alleged relationship with the slave, Sally Hemmings, see A. Gordon-Reed (1997) Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia).Google Scholar
  15. 20.
    Dr Williams gave a string of lectures and sermons in March 2007, from Zanzibar to Hull, on the issue of the Church, slavery and reparations. See Guardian (26 March 2007); BBC News website (27 March 2007); and The Wilberforce Lecture, Hull (24 April 2007). See also A. Tyrrell and J. Walvin (2004) ‘Whose History is It? Memorialising Britain’s Involvement in Slavery’ in P. A. Pickering and A. Tyrrell (eds) Contested Sites: Commemoration, Memorial and Popular Politics in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Aldershot: Ashgate), pp. 147–69.Google Scholar
  16. 21.
    J. Walvin (2005) ‘The Colonial Origins of English Wealth: The Harewoods of Yorkshire’, The Journal of Caribbean History, 39:1, pp. 38–53.Google Scholar

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© James Walvin 2010

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