Neale Conference 2012

30th-31st March 2012, Old Refectory, Main Building, University College London

The colloquium presented the findings of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project and engaged with current work exploring the importance of slavery and slave-ownership in the re-making of the British imperial world after abolition in 1833.

Whilst the 2007 bicentenary of the end of the slave trade inaugurated an explosion of popular interest in Britain's role in the slavery business, much is still unknown about the significance of slavery to the formation of modern imperial Britain. Yet in 1833, abolition was heralded as evidence of Britain's claim to be "the" modern global power, its commitment to representative government in Britain, free labour, the rule of law, and a benevolent imperial mission all aspects of a national identity rooted in notions of freedom and liberty. This conference will bring together historians from Britain, the US and the Caribbean to discuss the legacies of slavery and slave-ownership.

There were five panel sessions, readings and a roundtable across Friday 30th and Saturday 31st March. The colloquium began with an introduction to the LBS project, which has been investigating what happened to the 20 million pounds of compensation money paid to British slave owners after 1833. Questions which were addressed through the following panels included: what was the character of the British imperial state in the wake of 1833? What happened to the merchants and planters who had been central to the West Indian economy and to the culture they had elaborated? What new forms of unfree labour emerged across the British Empire? How can academic historians connect with the museums, family and local historians who have made critical contributions to the understanding of slavery and its legacies? What are the issues around history, reparations and restitution in the present?

The panel sessions were as follows:

  • The imperial state
  • Formations of capital: beyond "merchants" and "planters"
  • From slavery to indenture
  • Public histories, family histories
  • Reparations, restitution and the historian.

The conference was preceded by a free public lecture by Professor Robin Blackburn (Essex) on "Slavery and Finance in Britain's Empire of Free Trade".

The conference was supported by the Amiel & Melburn Trust, the Economic History Society and the Tristram family.