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Britain's Forgotten Slave Owners: Academic research underpins major new BBC programme

Date: 15/07/2015

In 1834 Britain abolished slavery; for nearly 200 years the detailed records that catalogued this forgotten part of history have lain hidden away in the archives. Britain's Forgotten Slave Owners sees historian David Olusoga teaming up with University College London to bring to light the findings of two major research projects funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), which have been delving into these archives to examine for the first time the ‘True Legacy of British Slave Ownership.’

Using the records of the millions of pounds paid in compensation to slave-owners for the loss of their ‘property’, the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project has documented over 46,000 individual claims and awards made to those who either owned slaves or benefited indirectly from ownership.

A claim note given to a slave owner declaring compensation issued for loss of property due the abolishment of slavery in the UK

A major output of the research and an important source for the BBC programme is the first freely accessible database of Britons involved in slave-ownership. The resource helps people explore their family, local and regional histories, and help increase understanding about a national past that can often be forgotten or ignored.

This two part programme sees David Olusoga interrogating the archives to reveal the surprising range of people who owned slaves and the sheer scale of the slavery business. The programme also offers a glimpse of how the slave owners' wealth has seeped into every corner of Britain.

Legacies of British Slave-ownership is the umbrella for two projects based at University College London tracing the impact of slave-ownership on the formation of modern Britain: ‘Legacies of British Slave-ownership’ was funded by the ESRC and ‘Structure and significance of British Caribbean slave-ownership 1763-1833’, which runs 2013-2015 is jointly funded by the AHRC and the ESRC.

Britain's Forgotten Slave Owners is a two part series that starts tonight at 9pm on BBC2.

Notes to Editors

  • If you would like to request a media interview with one of the researchers, please contact Emi Spinner, AHRC Press Officer on tel: 01793 41 60 20 or email: e.spinner@ahrc.ac.uk
  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class research in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and many more. Each year the AHRC spends approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training often in collaboration with partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds provide considerable economic, social and cultural benefits to the UK.
  • The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK's future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government. In 2015 it celebrates its 50th anniversary.
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