Historians Against Slavery Conference 2017

“Outstanding scholarship linked directly to contemporary issues of injustice and oppression” (HAS delegate)

Overview: This year Historians Against Slavery (HAS) held its biennial conference outside of the United States for the first time at the International Slavery Museum (ISM) in Liverpool, UK. The two-day conference was part of a series of events during the 10th Anniversary of the ISM and also marked UK Black History Month 2017. It was co-hosted by HAS, the ISM, the Centre for the Study of International Slavery (University of Liverpool) and the Antislavery Usable Past project (ASUP, Universities of Nottingham and Hull).

Connecting past with present, the conference aimed to deepen dialogue and collaboration between scholars, teachers, activists and community representatives, and build coalitions for antislavery scholarship and activism. This was achieved by bringing together a distinguished body of leading scholars, museum professionals and antislavery activists from around the world, reflecting on cutting-edge scholarship and debating practical examples of how history can inform contemporary efforts to end the enslavement of 40.3 million people worldwide.

Attendance: The conference generated a lot of interest. It was free to attend and delegates registered via the Eventbrite platform. Those who registered learnt about the conference via Historians Against Slavery publicity, the International Slavery Museum website and social media, the organiser’s twitter feeds, the Antislavery Usable Past project and other channels. 120 people attended the event including speakers and the team. The delegates included representatives from UK and international universities; a variety of NGOs and antislavery organisations; schools; public bodies; students and interested members of the public.

Conference programme: The conference was opened by Richard Benjamin, International Slavery Museum and Stacey Robertson, Historians Against Slavery. The programme extended over two full days and consisted of seven chaired panels with 24 speakers . Overall the message of the conference was how historians and scholars can fight slavery today and how to ensure that the deep roots of slavery in history are not forgotten in today’s antislavery movement. The general themes addressed by the panels were abolition, the pedagogy of (anti-)slavery, drawing lessons from past antislavery movements, decolonizing the archive, and the memory of slavery. Delegates responded positively to the variety of speakers presentations in a follow up evaluation by commenting on the “breadth of scholarship”, “the variety of perspectives shared”“hearing research from US and France” and “new topics on history of slavery” . There were many positive comments on the content of the panel on teaching and learning the history of slavery. In addition to the panels there were two distinguished keynote speakers. Professor John Stauffer, Harvard University, concluded the activities on day one with his talk entitled “History is the Activist’s Muse” which was introduced by Jason Allen, Historians Against Slavery. Jean-Francois Manicom from the International Slavery Museum gave a pre lunch talk on day two that focussed on artistic interpretations of slavery in his talk “Curating Slavery in the Caribbean and Europe: Challenges, Aims and Perspectives”.

Conclusion: The 2017 Historians Against Slavery Conference was a successful event which challenged perspectives on the use of the history of slavery within today’s antislavery movement. By holding the event at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool the delegates were surrounded by meaningful historical representation and also celebrated the 10th anniversary of the museum. The overall response was very positive and provided an opportunity for people involved or interested in the modern slavery movement to network and share thoughts, responses and ideas with others.

Comments from the delegates:

 “I was inspired to think much more seriously about pursuing a PhD – the conference refuelled my enthusiasm for my chosen topic. Thank you.”

“Several of the presentations were excellent, and I would particularly single out Johnnie Maberry and Stephen  Rozman; Talitha LeFlouria; John Stauffer; Jean Hebrard; Martha SJones; Charles Forsdick.”

Most valuable aspects of the conference …

“The variety of perspectives shared; the outstanding research; the wonderful, stimulating dialogue; the location.”

“A good blend of local, national and international, and of current and historical subjects.”

“The chance to talk with other scholars about their work on slavery (both historical and contemporary).”

“The discussion part between the panels and the audience.”

“Opportunity to learn about emerging research.”

Ideas for future events …

 “More on resources schools and colleges can use to teach students about slavery.”

 “A day… in order to create a plan for how we could co-ordinate our efforts in the future.”

“Teaching -focused event as there was lots of potential there.”

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