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Uncovering Britain's Hidden Links To Slavery

Date: 27/02/2013

The first freely accessible database of Britons involved in slave-ownership has been developed by historians from UCL with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The resource will help people explore their family, local and regional histories, and also help increase understanding about a national past which is often obscured.

Using the records of the £20m paid in compensation to slave-owners in the 1830s for the loss of their ‘property’ as a starting-point, the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project has documented around 46,000 individual claims and awards made to those who either owned slaves or benefitted indirectly from ownership.

“Our overall finding is that British colonial slave-ownership was of far greater significance in Britain than has previously been recognised,” said project leader Professor Catherine Hall (UCL History). “What we have done is to establish the life-trajectories of some 3,000 absentee slave-owners in Britain, and analysis of this has allowed us to trace the legacies of slave-ownership in Victorian Britain.”

During the three year project, the team, which also included Dr Nick Draper, Keith McClelland and Rachel Lang, has made a detailed investigation of the around 3,000 Britons, both men and women, who received compensation.

“The focus has been on tracing the legacies of these beneficiaries and their descendants through six strands. These are political, commercial, cultural, imperial, historical and physical legacies,” said Keith McClelland.

As well as making the data publicly accessible in a web-based Encyclopaedia of British Slave-Owners, the team also plan to use the data as the basis for a new project, which will develop ownership histories from 1763 to 1833 for the 4,000 estates identified in the compensation records.

“By looking systematically at estate ownership in the British Caribbean during the last 70 years of slavery we will be able to assess slave-ownership’s national significance at the height of the slave system. At the same time we plan to integrate the histories of the enslaved men and women into the histories of the estates on which they lived and worked,” said Dr Nick Draper.

These two projects together promise to transform our understanding of Britain’s relationship with slavery.

Notes to editors

For further information, please contact:

Danielle Moore-Chick, AHRC: 01793 416021 d.moore-chick@ahrc.ac.uk

George Wigmore, UCL Media Relations Manager: 020 7679 9041, g.wigmore@ucl.ac.uk

  • More information about the project can be found at: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/ 
  • The Legacies of British Slave-ownership project was funded by the ESRC and the Structures and Significance of British Caribbean Slave-ownership 1763-1833 project is funded by the ESRC and AHRC.
  • UCL (University College London): Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. We are among the world's top universities, as reflected by our performance in a range of international rankings and tables. According to the Thomson Scientific Citation Index, UCL is the second most highly cited European university and the 15th most highly cited in the world. UCL has nearly 25,000 students from 150 countries and more than 9,000 employees, of whom one-third are from outside the UK. The university is based in Bloomsbury in the heart of London, but also has two international campuses – UCL Australia and UCL Qatar. Our annual income is more than £800 million. www.ucl.ac.uk
  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.
  • The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's total budget for 2012/13 is £205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.
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