Faculty of Social & Historical Sciences


Leading Caribbean scholar appointed director of UCL centre examining the impact of British slavery

5 July 2019

Leading scholar in Caribbean history, Professor Matthew Smith, has been appointed the new Director of UCL’s Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership (LBS), following the retirement of current director Dr Nicholas Draper.

Professor Matt Smith

Professor Smith seeks to strengthen and expand the Centre’s existing body of work on slave ownership and develop new research into the lives of enslaved people.

Professor Smith will also take up the position of Chair in the Department of History at UCL, when he starts in spring 2020.

On his appointment, Professor Smith said: “I am delighted to assume the Directorship of LBS and the Chair in the Department of History. The LBS project has been one of the most important historical and cultural initiatives of recent years for all those concerned with transatlantic slavery and its legacies, with British history, and with race and identity in Britain and the Caribbean.

“While extending and further strengthening its existing wonderful work on slave-ownership in metropolitan Britain, I believe we can fully realize its potential for the Caribbean and the Americas, and that we can develop it also as a resource for research into the lives of the enslaved people as well as the enslavers.  I look forward to joining my colleagues both in the Centre and in the Department of History next April: but in the interim I will be fully engaged in the work and direction of the Centre.”

Professor Smith has served as head of the Department of History and Archaeology at the University of West Indies at Mona, Jamaica. He is the author of Liberty, Fraternity, Exile: Haiti and Jamaica After Emancipation (University of North Carolina Press, 2014), awarded the 2015 Haiti Illumination Project Book Prize by the Haitian Studies Association, and of Red and Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change (University of North Carolina Press 2009), which was the winner of the Gordon K. and Sybil Lewis prize for the best book in Caribbean Studies from the Caribbean Studies Association.

The new appointment follows the recent appointment of Professor Paul Gilroy as founding director of the Centre for the Study of Race and Racism, and will strengthen UCL’s work in the field of Atlantic slavery and critical race studies.

The LBS was founded at UCL in 2016, with the support of the Hutchins Center at Harvard, to provide a permanent base for the work originally undertaken through successive ESRC and ESRC/AHRC funded research projects.  

Dr Nicholas Draper, the outgoing Director, said: “It has been a privilege to be the first Director of the LBS Centre, and an honour to have been involved in the earlier work that gave rise to it.  I am thrilled that Matt Smith will now take it forward: I know LBS will be in extremely good hands.”

Catherine Hall, Emerita Professor of History at UCL and Honorary Chair of the Centre, said: “This is a terrific appointment for the Centre. We are fortunate to have attracted a scholar of Matt’s stature. He will help embed us fully in the Caribbean and extend the reach and scope of our work, while deeply respecting what has been built to date.”   

Professor Eleanor Robson, the Head of the Department of History, said: “I am thrilled to welcome Professor Smith to London. Beyond his leadership of the LBS Centre, I am greatly looking forward to working with him to develop the Department’s existing strengths in the history of the Americas. There will also be exciting opportunities to shape emerging endeavours, such as our MA in public history at UCL East, and UCL’s newly founded Centre for the Study of Race and Racism.”