UCL European Institute


Legacies of European Colonial Slavery

12 March 2014, 12:00 am

Eventbrite - Legacies of European Colonial Slavery

Event Information

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In Place(s) of Memory Series
12 March 2014

With contributions from Prof Catherine Hall (UCL History) and Prof Myriam Cottias (CNRS).


12 March 2014, 6.00pm

UCL Chadwick B05 LT
Gower Street
London WC1E 6BT

Colonial slavery profoundly shaped modern Europe - in France as well as in Britain. Yet while its legacies clearly reach into our world today, the extent and limits of slavery's role in shaping history in different European imperial contexts has only relatively recently begun to attract scholarly attention. How have these histories been situated within national and public histories of slavery and the slave-trade in France and Britain? How can we map and analyse economic, social and cultural historical aspects of enslavement in both countries? How were national identities in Europe constituted in relation to the multiple 'others' of the colonies and their descendants?

These are the questions addressed during this joint lecture and an accompanying workshop, the third and last event in a series the European Institute has hosted with the Institut Français du Royaume-Uni in the academic year 2013-14.


Legacies of European colonial slavery: the re-thinking of race after slavery
Catherine Hall
Slave-owners exercised considerable power and influence in British society and were able to delay the abolition of the slave trade and of slavery for many decades. By 1833, however, there was widespread agreement that slavery was a pernicious institution and that it must be ended - at least in the form that it took in the British West Indies, the Cape and Mauritius. Yet the slave-owners were able to secure a very comfortable settlement for themselves, 20 million pounds for the loss of 'their' property and years of unpaid labour from the so-called 'apprentices'. Since slavery was seen as a national sin there was relatively little hostility to the slave-owners as individuals and they and their descendants were able to re-establish themselves as good citizens, abandoning their identities as 'West Indians' and emphasizing their Britishness. In the wake of abolition they rarely defended slavery outright, yet their writings on race, whether fictional, historical or poetic, demonstrate clear continuities with the pro-slavery protagonists of the eighteenth century. Slavery might have ended but racial hierarchies continued to be firmly in place. Such ideas played an important part in the nineteenth century debates over race, and have reverberations into the present.

France: between the "Outre-Mers", the "Héxagone", and the global
Myriam Cottias
In recent times, the social coherence of European societies has been at issue with regard to the heritage of the memory of colonial slavery. Even if there has been a broad spectrum of interrogations at various levels of social urgency and demand, extending from near silence to laws on memory, debates have been shaking all European societies whose prosperity relied, at some point in their history, on the slave trade, slavery and colonization. Historically, the colonial slave trade and slavery contributed to elaborating and consolidating the definition of Europe from an economic, cultural and intellectual point of view. First, through the discussion of human domination, then through the construction of the notion of freedom, this term took on concrete meaning with the development of the campaign against the slavery of the people from Africa. Regarding the globalization of the claims made by countries of the South to countries of the North, claims in which slavery occupies a central role, a local change in the registers of memory has emerged in the last ten years. Thanks to the information circulation provided by the Internet, the analyses are more accurate and the back and forth between the local, national and global more constant. We will explore these different points in the framework of France, through the interaction between "race" (construction of the categories of "Black" and "White" and its legacies) and the Republic in France, and through the question of reparations due from colonial slavery.


Catherine Hall is Professor of Modern British Social and Cultural History at UCL. Her research focuses on re-thinking the relation between Britain and its empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She is particularly interested in the ways in which empire impacted upon metropolitan life, how the empire was lived 'at home', and how English identities, both masculine and feminine, were constituted in relation to the multiple 'others' of the empire. Civilising Subjects looks at the process of mutual constitution, both of colonizer and colonized, in England and Jamaica in the period between the 1830s and the 1860s. Her most recent book, Macaulay and Son: Architects of Imperial Britain (2012), focuses on the significance of the Macaulays, father and son, in defining the parameters of nation and empire in the early nineteenth century. Catherine Hall was Principal Investigator of the ESRC-funded project Legacies of British Slave Ownership (2004-12), and now of the new ESRC/AHRC funded project The Structure and Significance of British-Caribbean Slave-Ownership, 1763-1833 (2013-16).

Myriam Cottias, a historian of slavery, is professor with the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) at the CRPLC, Université des Antilles et de la Guyane. She heads the International Research Centre on Slavery, Actors, Systems and Representations (Esclavages) associated with the CNRS. She is also co-responsible for the specialisation "History of the Colonial Fact" in the MA History of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Social Sciences (EHESS). She also was the scientific coordinator of the European FP7 project Slave Trade, Slave Abolitions and their Legacies in European Histories and Identities (EURESCL). She is a member of the National Committee of the CNRS and President of the Comité National pour l'Histoire et la Mémoire de l'Esclavage. Amongst others, her published works include: Les dépendances serviles; une approche comparée, with Bernard Vincent et Sandro Stella (Paris: L'Harmattan, 2006); D'une abolition, l'autre. Anthologie raisonnée de textes sur la seconde abolition de l'esclavage dans les colonies françaises (Marseille: Agone Editeur, 1999); De la nécessité d'adopter l'esclavage en France: un texte anonyme de 1797 and La question noire. Histoire d'une construction coloniale, both with Arlette Farge (Paris: Bayard, 2007). Her latest book is Relire Mayotte Capécia, une femme des Antilles dans l'espace colonial Français, with Madeleine Dobie (Paris: Armand Colin, 2012).
IF-UCL collaboration: 'In Place(s) of Memory'
UCL and the IF recently signed an agreement to collaborate on a series of workshops over a period of three years, focusing on research in the Humanities, to build on existing and explore new links between UCL and French academic and research organisations. The UCL European Institute is organising the first year of activity under this new scheme. Entitled 'In Place(s) of Memory', the season has an interdisciplinary focus and, particularly appropriate given the centenary of the beginning of World War I in 2014, aims to offer an intellectual platform for established scholars, early career academics, and the wider public on history, memory, and commemoration. 

Workshop: Associated with this joint lecture, we are also hosting a workshop for doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows from UCL and Paris, led by Catherine Hall and Myriam Cottias. This takes place on Thursday, 13 March. Please email Uta Staiger for more information.