About the Project

“There are an estimated 40 million slaves worldwide. A modern antislavery movement is working to end global slavery and the UN Sustainable Development Goals include a target for its eradication. Our AHRC-funded project (2014-19) is seeking the lessons of past antislavery movements for these contemporary antislavery efforts. It includes a new archive of several collections: contemporary slave narratives (launched in 2016 and continuing to grow), 1807 commemorative projects (launched in September 2017), antislavery murals and street art (launching in December 2017),  and Congo antislavery visual culture (launching in 2018).

Where did past movements succeed and fail? How can we learn from past abolitionists’ mistakes to build an effective, multi-dimensional movement that puts the voices, ideas and strategies of slavery survivors at its heart? How can heritage practices move beyond mere nostalgia for past antislavery victories towards an active protest memory? What historical antislavery opinion-building techniques, legislative battles, rhetoric, visual culture and movement structures would provide adaptable models for contemporary antislavery, and which must be left in the past?



Working with survivors of slavery, community muralists, heritage and policy partners, NGOs, and activist education groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we seek a usable antislavery past for a contemporary rights and justice movement challenging the illegal forms of slavery that persist in our world.”

This site includes commentaries on different aspects of the project, by both our team and our partners from the heritage sector and NGOs and others. You can also find upcoming events and news. For more, please ‘like’ our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter.

Professor Kevin Bales discusses some of the themes of the Usable Past project:

Find out more

Recent News and Events

Recent Commentaries

Contact us

Please feel free to contact us about media engagement, public talks, new partnerships, potential doctoral supervision and any other queries.


University of Nottingham,
B118 Law and Social Sciences building,
University Park,
Nottingham. NG7 2RD.

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