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About the project

The Antislavery Usable Past project is an AHRC-funded project (£1.84 million, 2014-2019) led by the University of Nottingham, in partnership with the Universities of Hull and Queen’s Belfast. We are unearthing and theorising the lessons of historic abolitionism for contemporary use - providing the movement against contemporary global slavery with a usable past of antislavery examples and methods.

Our four professors, two postdoctoral fellows and three PhD students, together with our NGO and heritage partners, are completing an interdisciplinary investigation into antislavery legacies, across history and multiple geographies, and showing that applied knowledge of the antislavery past offers a way to ‘care for the future’. In our publications, networks, knowledge exchange, open online courses, and digital archives, we translate the successes and failures of past antislavery movements into effective tools for contemporary policy makers, civil society, and the heritage community. 

The project is also collaborating closely with the Antislavery Knowledge Network, which is based at the University of Liverpool, and seeks community-led strategies for creative and heritage-based interventions in sub-Saharan Africa.

The team

Jean Allain Jean Allain is Professor of Public International Law at Queen’s University Belfast, where he has served as Director of the Human Rights Centre. He specialises in human rights and issues of slavery and trafficking and his books include Slavery in International Law: Of Human Exploitation and Trafficking (2013), The Legal Understanding of Slavery: From the Historical to the Contemporary (2012) and The Slavery Conventions (2008). He has conducted consultant work for the International Labour Organisation, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Kevin Bales Kevin Bales is Professor of Contemporary Slavery at the University of Nottingham, co-founder of Free the Slaves, and lead author of the Global Slavery Index. His books include Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy; Ending Slavery: How We Free Today’s Slaves; The Slave Next Door: Modern Slavery in the United States; and Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World. He has advised the US, British, Irish, Norwegian, and Nepali governments on contemporary slavery and the Association of British Universities has named his work one of “100 World-Changing Discoveries.”

Katie Donington Katie Donington is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow with the Antislavery Usable Past project at the University of Nottingham. Her research focuses on the history, memory and representation of British transatlantic slavery. She completed her PhD with the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project at University College London. Her thesis examined networks of slavery, family and commerce through an in-depth case study of the Hibbert family. She was a Post-doctoral Research Associate with the Structure and Significance of British Caribbean Slave-ownership project at University College London. Katie has a long-standing interest in public history and worked in the museum sector for several years.

Hannah Jeffery Hannah Jeffery is completing a PhD at the University of Nottingham as part of the project. Her PhD explores the antislavery usable past in 1960s protest movements, as a model for contemporary abolitionism. It shows how Black Power advocates used the memory and legacy of abolitionists in order to further their own goal of achieving black self-determination. She is an active member of the university’s Centre for Research in Race and Rights, and has a BA and MRes in American Studies.

Rebecca Nelson Rebecca Nelson is completing a PhD at the University of Hull as part of the project. Her PhD examines the antislavery usable past within a museum environment, showing how museums use this topic to engage with contemporary campaigns. Having worked in several museums and heritage institutions across the UK, including the National Trust, English Heritage, York Castle Museum and Beamish, Rebecca is focusing in particular on how their work with memory can contribute to a greater understanding and engagement with issues of ‘difficult heritage.’ She has a BA in History from the University of York and an MA in Museum Studies from Newcastle University.

John Oldfield John Oldfield is Wilberforce Professor of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull and Director of the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation. His books including Popular Politics and British Anti-Slavery: The Mobilisation of Public Opinion against the Slave Trade, 1787-1807; Chords of Freedom: Commemoration, Ritual and British Transatlantic Slavery and, most recently, Transatlantic Abolitionism in the Age of Revolution: An International History of Anti-Slavery, 1787-1802. His research interests include the American South, maritime history and race relations in the United States.

Katarina Schwarz Katarina Schwarz is completing a PhD at Queens University Belfast as part of the project. Her PhD explores the antislavery usable past within the context of legal claims to reparations for slavery, addressing the residual effects of historic slavery in the modern world, and the potential avenues for resolution. It analyses the role of reparatory justice within the current legal landscape, and assesses this against the objectives of the contemporary slavery reparations movement. She has a LLB (Hons) First Class and a BA in Theatre Studies and Performing Arts from the University of Otago, New Zealand.

Zoe Trodd Zoe Trodd is Professor of American Literature in the Department of American and Canadian Studies at the University of Nottingham, founding co-director of the Centre for Research in Race and Rights, and co-director of the university’s research priority area in Rights and Justice. She has published books about historic and contemporary slavery, the abolitionists Frederick Douglass and John Brown, and American protest literature. She is a member of the board of Historians Against Slavery and an affiliate to the Antislavery Literature Project. She has a PhD and MA from Harvard University.

Mary Wills Mary Wills is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Hull. She works on Britain’s abolitionist mission in the nineteenth century, including its intersections with empire and national identity. Her PhD focused on the Royal Navy and the suppression of the Atlantic slave trade and was funded by the AHRC in collaboration with the National Maritime Museum, where she was formerly a Caird Research Fellow. She also has degrees from Cambridge University and UCL and worked for several years in the heritage sector before beginning her PhD.