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The British Slave Trade and Public Memory

The British Slave Trade and Public Memory

Elizabeth Kowaleski Wallace
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The British Slave Trade and Public Memory
    Book Description:

    How does a contemporary society restore to its public memory a momentous event like its own participation in transatlantic slavery? What are the stakes of once more restoring the slave trade to public memory? What can be learned from this history? Elizabeth Kowaleski Wallace explores these questions in her study of depictions and remembrances of British involvement in the slave trade. Skillfully incorporating a range of material, Wallace discusses and analyzes how museum exhibits, novels, television shows, movies, and a play created and produced in Britain from 1990 to 2000 grappled with the subject of slavery.

    Topics discussed include a walking tour in the former slave-trading port of Bristol; novels by Caryl Phillips and Barry Unsworth; a television adaptation of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park; and a revival of Aphra Behn's Oroonoko for the Royal Shakespeare Company. In each case, Wallace reveals how these works and performances illuminate and obscure the history of the slave trade and its legacy. While Wallace focuses on Britain, her work also speaks to questions of how the United States and other nations remember inglorious chapters from their past.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51031-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Millennial Reckonings
    (pp. 1-24)

    “British tag ‘coded racist’” read the lead headline of the Manchester Guardian , October 11, 2000. The article addressed the publication of The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain: The Parekh Report by the Runnymede Trust.¹ Running to 417 pages, The Parekh Report was produced by a commission including academics, journalists, law-enforcement officers, social workers, educators, public policy researchers, and specialists. Its twentyone chapters describe the current climate for multiethnic experience in Britain by reviewing existing social policies and surveying relevant issues in policing, the criminal justice system, education, arts, media, sports, health and welfare, employment, immigration and asylum, religion, government leadership, legislation,...

  6. Chapter One Commemorating the Transatlantic Slave Trade in Liverpool and Bristol
    (pp. 25-66)

    How does a contemporary society restore to its public memory such a momentous event as its own participation in transatlantic slavery, especially when that event has been virtually unrecognized in public account for nearly two hundred years? What are the stakes of once more restoring the eighteenth-century slave trade to public memory? For whom? What can be learned from this history?

    For Bristol and Liverpool in the 1990s these questions had special urgency. As ports that saw significant expansion and enrichment in the eighteenth century, both cities faced increased civic pressure to acknowledge that past municipal wealth resulted from a...

  7. Chapter Two Fictionalizing Slavery in the United Kingdom, 1990–2000
    (pp. 67-124)

    In Britain,the last decade of the twentieth century saw the publication of a series of novels taking slavery as their subject. A partial list includes Caryl Phillips’s Cambridge (1991), Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger (1992), Phillips’s Crossing the River(1993), Graeme Rigby’s The Black Cook’s Historian (1993), Fred D’Aguiar’s The Longest Memory (1994), Philippa Gregory’s A Respectable Trade (1995), S. I. Martin’s Incomparable World (1996), D’Aguiar’sFeeding the Ghosts (1997), and David Dabydeen’s A Harlot’s Progress (1999).¹ At first glance, so many novels point to a distinct trend among writers of a certain era. To Bénédicte Ledent, the novels of Phillips and D’Aguiar...

  8. Chapter Three Seeing Slavery and the Slave Trade
    (pp. 125-178)

    In an often-cited scene in Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park(1814), the heroine Fanny Price asks her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, the owner of a sugar plantation in Antigua, about the slave trade. Her query is cut short by a “dead silence” that literary critics have recently interpreted in a variety of ways. Perhaps the moment is highly freighted, the words “dead” and “silence” metonymically paralleling the theme of bondage, as Moira Ferguson suggests. Or, equally possible—as Marcus Wood asserts—perhaps silence relates to the characters’ “boredom of overexposure” to the subject.¹ But in the 1999 film version of the...

  9. Chapter Four Transnationalism and Performance in ‘Biyi Bandele’s Oroonoko
    (pp. 179-206)

    In 1999, after a considerable absence from the English stage, the character of Oroonoko returned, in an adaptation for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) by Nigerian-born and London-based playwright ‘Biyi Bandele.¹ In the foreword to the play, Bandele cites a Yoruba proverb: “It is said of Eshu, the Yoruba trickster-God, who is the ubiquitous reverse hero of Oroonoko, that ‘he threw a rock today, and killed a bird yesterday.’” Bandele explains: “The present, says this paradox, is defined by the future. Eshu, and his metaphor of transcendence [,] has inspired this feast-of-a-war—which is to say jam session between a...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 207-212)

    This book surveys a range of artistic and cultural attempts to remember publicly a traumatic event in British history that had been largely forgotten or ignored in popular memory. As I argue in the Introduction, although historians had long since documented the fact of British involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, until the latter decades of the twentieth century the economic facts, the full repercussions, and, most of all, the human toll of transatlantic slavery had rarely received attention in broadly accessible public forums. This public silence was broken in the 1980s and 1990s, as artists, filmmakers, novelists, and major...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 213-242)
  12. Index
    (pp. 243-248)