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Slavery: memory and afterlives

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Josie Gill

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Julia O'Connell Davidson

A call for remembrance is not necessarily a call for closer attention to the details of history. It is not essential to be well acquainted with geopolitics or military history in order to remember the war dead. Nor does remembering those whose lives were destroyed by slavery require a knowledge of historic slave regimes.

But in former slave and colonial states like Britain, there is a difference between the remembrance of war and the remembrance of transatlantic slavery. Because the latter disrupts the dominant, self-congratulatory national narrative about a country’s love of liberty, equality, democracy and justice.

So what exactly should or can we remember, and why, and what should we ‘do’ with these memories? This volume reflects on these questions as they relate to the memory of slavery and the different conversations that can be had about its past and present. But they do not, and cannot, provide the answer to these questions, for there is no simple or single answer. Read on...



An appeal for a monument to the 1811 Louisiana slave revolt

Memorialisation in public space in Louisiana fails to reflect the history of the state's black population, or the evils of slavery. It is time for that to change.

‘Sankofa’: slavery and selective remembrance

Despite the clear historical evidence, both Britain and Ghana still sanitise memories of the brutality and suffering of the transatlantic slave trade.

Stealing freedom: attempts to re-enslave blacks in post-emancipation Barbados

As was the case across the Americas, formal emancipation in Barbados did not automatically lead to ‘freedom’ for formerly enslaved people.

Remembering captive bodies: indigenous child labour and runaway ads in a post-slavery Peru

What can runaway ads tell us about histories of exploitation and exclusion in post-slavery Peru? How did 'masters' govern before surveillance technology?

Remembering Empire in Bristol and Brussels

In debates over how to remember the imperial, slave-driving past, what can Bristol learn from Belgium?

Language and resistance: memories of slavery and Rastafari language

Language within the Rastafari culture, known as Iyaric, or Word Sound, has been formed in resistance to the effects of white supremacist domination as it manifest in slavery and colonisation.

Black Bristol, racism and slavery: one narrative to rule them all?

The parish of St Paul’s occupies an important place in the history of Black Britain. But what part should the history of slavery play in its inhabitants identities?

Colston, the cathedral and Bristol’s children

Most public debate over the legacy of Edward Colston focuses on his statue. But what of the schoolchildren’s ceremonies that take place in the cathedral?

Slavery and visual memory: what Britain can learn from France

The debate over Edward Colston’s statue goes to the heart of the visual politics of memory and history. What can Britain learn from France’s treatment of its slave-trading past?

Obliteration, contextualisation or ‘guerrilla memorialisation’? Edward Colston’s statue reconsidered

Legacies of slavery’s past dot many a British cityscape. But how best to handle the architectural politics of memory?

Slavery: memory and afterlives

What role does memory play in the politics of the present? How can we build better futures through politicising the past? The Brigstow Institute brings us a series reflecting on these questions.

Disinterring the enslaved

Archaeology has incredible powers of detection, but it suffers from emotional sterility. When we unearth the bones of the enslaved, we must feel their humanity through the science.

Adding flesh to the bones: re-imagining stories of the enslaved through the analysis of human skeletal remains

Scientists can't always see the humans stories beneath their data, but turn that data over to creative writers and a whole new world opens up.

(Very) close to the bone

A dire alchemy; but nonetheless, an alchemy: ‘Literary Archaeology: Exploring the Lived Environment of the Slave’ is about archaeologising memories of slavery.

Literary archaeology: exploring the lived environment of the slave

Archaeology and creative writing are both powerful tools for understanding the past lives of slaves. What would happen if we brought the disciplines together?

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