New study into historical connections between Nottingham’s universities and transatlantic slavery

The University of Nottingham is working in collaboration with Nottingham Trent University (NTU) on a new study that is tracing their historical connections with transatlantic slavery. The research will examine the nature and extent to which Nottingham’s universities were connected to, benefitted from, and also challenged British colonial slavery.

Although both institutions were founded in the 20th century, there is a common starting point in the heart of the City of Nottingham dating back to the late 18th Century. During this period, Nottingham’s famous historical lace and hosiery industry – which prompted the Government’s creation of the Founding College of NTU – drew on supplies of raw cotton produced and cleaned by enslaved people of African descent who laboured on plantations in the American South and elsewhere in the Americas in the early 19th century.

Reparatory justice

Several significant links to this period are currently under investigation including the University of Nottingham’s connection to William Ewart Gladstone who is prominent for laying the institution’s foundational stone in 1877. He is, however, less well known as a parliamentary defender of British slave-owners and as the inheritor of the substantial compensation money paid to his father in exchange for the liberation of the 2,508 enslaved Africans in 1833.

This research is being steered by a group which includes academics and other staff from the two universities and members of Nottingham’s African-Caribbean Community.

Dr James Dawkins, is the newly appointed Research Fellow and is carrying out the frontline and primary research on this history with the support and guidance of the group.

The research will last for 18 months and people in Nottingham will be given a chance to get involved in community engagement events. An official report will be published with recommendations for reparatory justice which will focus on the most appropriate ways for the city’s universities to acknowledge their links to transatlantic slavery.

I am delighted that our two universities are working on this very important project at a time when the world is increasingly recognising the importance of this history and its long-lasting legacies. The inclusion of the local community in Nottingham and wide range of different activities envisaged as part of this work will make a significant contribution to our understanding of these legacies and promote a much-needed conversation about how to learn from the lessons of the past.

This study emerges out of the wider reflective historical research that is taking place at American and British universities who are investigating their origins and links to transatlantic slavery. It also follows on from the existing research already taking place at the University of Nottingham on historical slavery, along with the race equality initiatives currently being pursued by the institution.

These include the establishment of the Institute for the Study of Slavery (ISOS) in 1998 and the university’s forthcoming application for bronze Race Equality Charter (REC) status in 2020. The University of Nottingham has also joined the international Universities Studying Slavery group which supports participating institutions with the exploration of their complicated historical connections to transatlantic slavery and to address its contemporary legacies.

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