Black History and the History of Slavery

Annual Conference 2015: Podcast

Madge Dresser, last updated: 2nd October 2015

Black History and the History of Slavery: Rethinking the agenda, Dr Madge Dresser, F.R.Hist.R. Associate Professor of History University of the West of England

In a globalising world and with an increasingly diverse population, traditional histories are being rethought. As the influence of popular memory on national identity and political allegiance is becoming increasingly apparent, the relationship between popular memory and academic history is also being reassessed. In both these regards it is seems clear that the history of people of African descent in the UK should no longer be ghettoised into ‘Black History month' but integrated into the history curriculum and the wider public understanding of history. But that is easier said than done.

One approach has been to draw on the burgeoning scholarship on Atlantic slavery, another is to refer to the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s when Black History is raised as a subject.  Both these approaches have their pitfalls. Conceptualising Black History exclusively through the prism of slavery is akin to reducing Jewish history to the Holocaust inaccurately narrow and bad for morale. Teaching the American - Civil Rights Movement is similarly problematic when it becomes a standardised and sanitised account of great men and the odd woman - remote from the concerns of contemporary Britain. This paper, using case studies, argues for the need for good empirical research and nuanced interpretation to inform the public understanding of ‘Black' History and its relationship to the history of Britain itself.

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