By Mary Wills, Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Antislavery Usable Past, WISE, University of Hull
The Antislavery Usable Past project runs a research network for postgraduates and Early Career Researchers of historic and contemporary slavery and antislavery studies from across the humanities and social sciences.
The network’s first annual workshop was held in October 2015 at the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE) in Hull. All of our PhD students presented papers during the two-day programme. Rebecca Nelson and Hannah Jeffery had the following thoughts about the workshop:
Rebecca: “Over two days, we heard from many early career researchers from across the UK, Europe and America, who all had a focus on antislavery as part of their research. A fantastic opportunity to share ideas between peers with similar interests, the presentations themselves covered a huge variety of time periods, geographic locations and academic disciplines. These included antislavery thought in twelfth century Britain, the Black Power movement, the contemporary reparation issue and even the power of poetry in the nineteenth-century Welsh abolition movement. An added feature of this conference was an evening film event hosted by Unchosen. The ‘Hull Stands Against Modern Slavery’ event featured a series of short films to raise awareness of modern slavery through film, followed by a Q&A session with academics and other professional experts. This event was open to the general public and it was a really good example of how academics and professionals can come together in the understanding and disseminating of research to a wider audience.
Because the conference was specifically aimed at this postgraduate research network, made up (predominantly) of early career researchers, this was a great chance to hear some really exciting new research being done in the field. Furthermore, for people starting out in academic careers, the conference was a brilliant opportunity to sound out ideas, as well as gather feedback and make connections for the future. The work being done by members of this network will have lasting applications across a range of fields, including history, heritage and law, and it will be fascinating to follow the progression of their careers and research. One thing that was clear to see, from the conference overall, is that antislavery is far from forgotten within a new generation of researchers, and its legacies will remain under investigation for much longer still.”
Hannah: “Punctuating Black History Month 2015 was the first workshop of the network. Connecting fifteen speakers and a host of attendees from across the world, the conference catalysed in-depth discussions around themes of “Policy, Morality and Profit,” “Abolitionist Legacies,” “Definitions of Legacies and Enslavement,” “New Narratives of Slavery and Antislavery,” and “The Uses and Representations of the Antislavery Past.” Throughout the duration of the conference, individuals engaged with each other, exchanging ideas and knowledge on the topic of slavery. Engaging with the public on the topic of contemporary global slavery and human trafficking, the Unchosen screening was followed by a question and answer session with anti-slavery organisations. With the event at full capacity, a rich and detailed discussion was held about the current state of contemporary slavery and what individuals can do to help.
The two-day conference closed with a collaborative workshop session run by Professor Kevin Bales and Shamere McKenzie, Chief Executive of the Sun Gate Foundation and a survivor of slavery. For an hour and a half, attendees were in dialogue with Bales and McKenzie to discuss the future of the research network, focusing on the ways individuals could keep up to date with current findings in their fields whilst imparting knowledge to the general public on the issues of contemporary slavery and human trafficking. The conference was invaluable to establish longevity for the network, bringing together not only an international cohort of PhD and Early Career Researchers, but also a host of original and groundbreaking topics in the field of slavery and abolition.”