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The afterlives of Caribbean slavery

On 22 November, historian Catherine Hall explored the profound mark that Caribbean plantation slavery left on Britain in the third and final lecture of the Legacy of Slavery Working Party lectures series. 

Professor Hall is Emerita Professor of History and Chair of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery at UCL, London. She led UCL鈥檚 groundbreaking 鈥楲egacies of British Slave-Ownership鈥 study and the setting up of the

"I've followed something of what the College has been engaged in, the process of critical self-reflection on the long-term legacies of slavery and violence, and know that this has provoked debate", Professor Hall said at the beginning of her talk. "Some want to refuse the idea that the past lives on in the present, that there is a debt to be paid for the exploitation of subject peoples and the spoliation of land and of lives which enabled the accumulation of wealth in the UK and the embedding of inequalities. So the case has to be made. Old histories unpicked and rewritten are a necessary part of any project of repair, the repair for wrongs done which can never be put right". 

Prof Hall unpicked an old history herself during the rest of her talk, during which she addressed the entangled histories of England and Jamaica. She particularly focussed on plantation owner Edward Long, whom she calls a "key architect both of the practices and the theoretical justifications for racialisation" in England, and the three volume history of Jamaica that he wrote and published in 1774. As Prof Hall argued, looking into the history allows us to understand both how money flowed into the UK from plantation slavery and how forms of racialisation flowed to the UK alongside the wealth. 

The event was the final lecture of a series of three public lectures in the Legacy of Slavery Working Party lecture series, which took place during November 2023. Historian Hakim Adi gave the first lecture in the series on 1 November, when he discussed his book African and Caribbean People in Britain: a History, which was recently shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize. In the second lecture, on 14 November, writer Thomas Harding drew on the 1823 uprising by enslaved people in Demerara to explore Britain鈥檚 legacy of slavery and his own family's historical ties to slave plantations.