In this article Elliot Ross says Scotland should take responsibility for the major and highly lucrative role it played in the transatlantic slave trade. He refers to a recent BBC documentary, Slavery: Scotland's Hidden Shame, which followed the publication of a major book. It gave a thorough and critical expose of an aspect of Scottish history that has often been ignored or else reduced to little more than a footnote beneath grander and more comfortable narratives about Scotland's distinctive scientific and intellectual contributions to modernity. Recent emphasis on Scottish participation in the abolition of slavery and the slave trade has come at the expense of a proper understanding of the ways in which Scottish institutions and elites were enriched by chattel slavery. This "structural amnesia compounds the original injury and extends the contempt for black life that made the transatlantic slavery economy possible to begin with." Read the full article here.
MJR is about addressing legacy of both colonial enslavement and industrial exploitation. One of the most significant events in UK history affecting the latter was the Peterloo Massacre of August 16, 1819 in Manchester when 60,000 peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators were charged by cavalry resulting in 18 deaths and over 700 severe injuries. Described as “the most important political event ever to take place in Manchester.” by the Guardian (founded as the Manchester Guardian as a direct outcome), the 200th anniversary of Peterloo will take place next year. Many events and activities are being planned to mark the anniversary (more information here) and MJR is helping plan one of these: a special commemorative service at Manchester Cathedral on July 7. More details to follow.
Also marking this anniversary is the Mike Leigh film 'Peterloo', now on general release in cinemas. The film tells the story of the context and build-up to the events of August 16, 1819, and of the day itself. It gives a telling insight into the conditions of the working classes and comparative ease and wealth of the factory owners and landed ruling classes that resorted to drastic measures to hold onto their power. Many reformers and commentators of the time compared the plight of the working classes to that of the enslaved, referring to 'white slavery', and a number of abolitionists were also involved in the struggle for worker's rights. The film leaves the viewer to draw their own parallels with modern-day Britain. Recommended for those who wish to learn about an important piece of our history, which, like the truth about enslavement and colonialism, has been conveniently neglected.
In this article in today's Independent, Deana Heath, senior lecturer in Indian and colonial history at the University of Liverpool argues that the school curriculum must stop whitewashing the British empire and start being honest about the subjugation and exploitation of millions of people.
Heath says his students come to him having been educated through a school history curriculum that focuses almost entirely on English political and religious history, and knowing “practically nothing about empire and its legacies – including in Britain. The histories they have studied and texts they have read were virtually all about or by white men, so they also know nothing about the history of women or the histories of people of colour, either.”
Referring to Jeremy Corbyn’s recent proposals that British school children should be taught about the history of the realities of British imperialism and colonialism, Heath says this would “begin to redress the phenomenal gulf between academic history and the English school curriculum.” Criticism of Corbyn's proposals from people such as Jacob Rees-Mog is based in a "state of denial about empire" and demonstrates “a profound ignorance about British imperial and colonial history, particularly about the impact of empire on not only the colonised but also the colonisers as well.”
Heath's students’ experience has been that being able to interrogate difficult histories, such as that of empire, has given them “a much better understanding of themselves and their place in the world”. Which is, surely, what education is supposed to do.
Read the full article here.
On a visit to Ghana this week Prince Charles will acknowledge Britain's the role in the “most painful chapter” of Ghana’s historic relations with Europe, as he speaks of the “appalling atrocity” of the slave trade in a landmark speech.
Speaking of the “unimaginable suffering” which left an “indelible stain on the history of our world”, he will argue that Britain must take responsibility for ensuring the horrors are never forgotten. Read the full article here.
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