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Remembering 1807

Background

In 2007, hundreds of events were organised throughout the United Kingdom to commemorate the bicentenary of the British Slave Trade Abolition Act (1807). ‘Remembering 1807’ is the first systematic effort to map these events, some of which have left little or no trace, hence the urgency of this project. ‘Remembering 1807’ is intended to conserve the past and, in so doing, to provide researchers with an invaluable guide to how Britons remembered 1807. It is our hope that the archive will also inform ongoing debates about slavery remembrance; what we as a country choose to remember about transatlantic slavery and, just as important, what we choose to forget.

‘Remembering 1807’ is part of the collaborative research project, ‘Antislavery Usable Past’, involving the universities of Hull and Nottingham. The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

About the Archive

‘Remembering 1807’ is a mapping exercise designed to give users some idea of the range and diversity of events organised in 2007 to ‘commemorate’ the bicentenary of the British Slave Trade Abolition Act, from large capital projects (e.g. the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool) to small community-led projects. It is not a digital library. Neither is it an archive of press coverage, feature films, or of the many academic books and conferences that emerged in 2007, many of which are freely available elsewhere.

Our rationale has been to look beyond the official narrative of 2007, which was often misleading (think of the number of people, including some MPs, who claimed that ‘slavery’ was abolished in 1807), or else manipulative (think of the way in which ‘1807’ was put in the service of the Labour Government’s emphasis on ‘social cohesion’).  

Some of the projects listed in this archive reflect this self-congratulatory mood – what some critics described at the time as ‘Wilberfest’. Others, however, take a very different stance, challenging Britons to rethink the boundaries of slavery and abolition. The Slave Trade Abolition Act was not an end but a beginning. Many community-led projects amplified this obvious fact, just as they drew attention to the lasting legacies of slavery: prejudice, discrimination, racism. Equally striking was the emphasis on resistance and what the enslaved did to free themselves, both in the Caribbean and the United States. Other projects traced the slave trade links of towns and cities in the UK, among them places not usually associated with slavery or the slave trade. Then there were those that celebrated the black presence in Britain, or else sought to identify and preserve black archives. 

The range of these responses is striking, yet ten years later a lot of the material produced in 2007 has already been lost. By their very nature, many of the projects put on during the bicentenary were ephemeral: what we would now call ‘pop-up’ exhibitions, or one-off performances. Part of our rationale, therefore, was to scope the full extent of what happened in 2007 – especially at a community level - while also identifying gaps in the archive. In this sense, ‘Remembering 1807’ is an act of conservation, but also one intended to introduce new audiences to the diverse and often conflicted ways in which Britons responded to the bicentenary. As such, the archive is a snapshot but, for all that, a snapshot that helps us to understand and critique the memory work that went on in 2007.

The starting point for the project was a working list of events funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2007-8, but the collection also includes projects funded by other national and regional funding bodies, including Arts Council England, as well as many that were self-funded. We have been especially keen to collect information from smaller, community-led projects, and to preserve information which might over time have become lost.

In all, we have mapped over 300 projects, but ‘Remembering 1807’ should not be regarded as a complete list of events organised in 2007. This is not a finished project but a starting point. We know that there are gaps in the archive. Our aim has been to create a resource that captures the commemorative process in 2007 and, as a result, we have included events that we know took place but which we have been unable to document. These events are indicated by an image of an extract from the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, 1807 (courtesy of Parliamentary Archives).

If you can update any of our records, or know of a bicentenary project which we have not featured, then please let us know at: antislaveryusablepast@gmail.com 

We have tried to provide as much information as possible about individual projects, sometimes based on interviews or contacts with the people who organised these events. Some projects and organisations have also kindly contributed their research, in the form of exhibition panels, research guides, education packs and smaller publications. In due course, all of this archival material, roughly 10% of the archive, will be deposited at the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull.

Guide for Users

Users can browse the collection utilising the UK map function, or via the date or location of the project or type of resource (e.g. 'community project' or 'film'). Users can also can do their own keyword searches via the search box, to search, for example, for an individual (e.g. ‘Olaudah Equiano’) or a subject associated with transatlantic slavery (e.g. ‘sugar’). 

We have tagged each project and its resources with a list of search terms. In view of the richness of the sources and the multitude of terms that organisers often used to describe their projects, users are advised to approach their searches flexibly and with a number of search terms in mind (e g. 'plantation owners' as well as 'slave owners'). In some cases, however, we have preferred one term over another. For instance, in general we have favoured 'Caribbean', rather than 'West Indies'. 'Modern slavery' also refers to 'contemporary slavery'. By 'legacy' we mean the legacy of transatlantic slavery and its place in British memory.

Within each project, users will find full descriptions, which provide information about the type of project, who was involved, project themes and project outputs (e.g. online resources, exhibitions, plays, education packs, heritage trails, films, and concerts). Users will also find details regarding funding bodies, as appropriate. 

In most cases, users can also view some of the materials produced to accompany each project, which we have made available in either PDF or JPEG formats. Wherever possible, we have endeavoured to reproduce full documents, but in some cases we have only been able to feature front covers or extracts. Much of this material is ephemeral (e.g. posters, leaflets, guides). As a general rule, we have not digitised book-length publications, especially where they are still available to purchase, or have been deposited in the British Library. If a resource produced by one of the projects listed in the archive is available for purchase from the participating organisation, we have directed users accordingly. 

Wherever possible, we have included links to existing online resources produced by participating groups and individuals in 2007 and to short films about 2007 projects available on video-sharing websites. These links can be found in the ‘Website’ section under the main description text. All of these links were active in September 2017. Sadly, some of the online resources produced in 2007 are no longer operational and to the best of our knowledge, have not been archived elsewhere.

‘Remembering 1807’ is designed to be a guide for researchers and, as such, a tool for taking their research further. In all cases, we have tried to be as accurate as possible, but users should treat the information provided here as a first step in their research.

Copyright and Take-down Policy

Copyrights to all resources are retained by the individual rights holders, who have kindly made their collections available for educational and non-commercial use only. All efforts have been made to obtain copyright permission for materials featured on this site. If you are aware of instances where the rights holder(s) has not been given an appropriate credit, please let us know. If you hold the rights to any item(s) included in this resource and oppose to its use, please contact us to request its removal from the website.

Contact us

Email: antislaveryusablepast@gmail.com

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the many organisations, groups and individuals who helped us in putting together this archive, and for providing us with information. We are also grateful to the Parliamentary Archives for allowing us to reproduce an extract from the Abolition Act of 1807. We would like to acknowledge the help of Dr Nick Evans, Dr Geoff Cubbitt, Professor James Walvin and Dr Angelina Osborne, who took time to discuss the ‘Remembering 1807’ project and in some cases shared their own archives with us.

Finally, we would like to thank the Arts and Humanities Research Council for supporting this project, and the universities of Hull and Nottingham for their technical assistance. Mike Gardner at Nottingham has been a tower of strength throughout the project. We would also like to thank Chris Awre at Hull who helped us a great deal during the early planning and development of ‘Remembering 1807’.

Next steps and further reading

We will be posting commentaries and accompanying articles based on this collection in due course. In particular, we want to examine the legacies of bicentenary projects, events and initiatives on the place of transatlantic slavery in Britain's public history. For more information on the range of projects conducted since 2007, please see the 'Re-Presenting Slavery: Making a Public Usable Past' website:

Projects since 2007

Listed below is a selection of further reading about the 2007 bicentenary commemorations:

1807 Commemorated project, based at the University of York

Special edition of History Workshop Journal (Volume 64, Issue 1, Autumn 2007), Feature Remembering 1807: Histories of the Slave Trade, Slavery and Abolition

Special edition of Slavery and Abolition (Volume 30, 2009), Remembering Slave Trade Abolitions: Reflections on 2007 in International Perspective

Alan Rice, ‘Revealing Histories, Dialogising Collections and Promoting Guerrilla Memorialisation: Museums and Galleries in North-West England Commemorating the Abolition of the Slave Trade’ in Alan Rice, Creating Memorials, Building Identities: The Politics of Memory in the Black Atlantic (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2010)

Laurajane Smith, Geoffrey Cubitt, Ross Wilson and Kalliopi Fouseki (editors), Representing Enslavement and Abolition in Museums: Ambiguous Engagements (London: Routledge, 2012)

James Walvin, ‘The Slave Trade, Abolition and Public Memory’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (Volume 19, 2009)