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Race Matters: Interrogating race and the global writing of history

14-15 November

All Abstracts

Thursday 14 November

16.00-18.00 Annual Global Lecture
Venue: H0.60, Humanties Building

Chair: Sarah Hodges (Warwick )

Nira Wickramasinghe (Leiden University), ‘The murder of a Dutch fiscal in 1723, Colombo: Interrogating the categories of ‘slave’, ‘black’ and ‘kaffir’’


There is an enduring belief in Sri Lanka that at some undetermined point in history ‘kaffir’ slaves rebelled, creating such havoc in Colombo that it led to them being severely suppressed and then confined to a ward of the city, that then became known for posterity as ‘Slave Island’. There was in, fact, no slave rebellion. The less well known murder of the Dutch fiscal, Barent de Swaan and his wife by their Asian domestic slaves, in the city of Colombo in 1723 is intimately connected to this apocryphal story. The reverberations of this violent event across three centuries, offer a key to tracking shifts in the manner in which ‘slaves,’ ‘blacks’ and ‘kaffirs’ were represented and their lives and deaths recorded during successive colonial and postcolonial regimes. This presentation will explore the gradual blackening of slaves in texts and in the collective memory of the people of Sri Lanka. It addresses the re-writing of history around the space called ‘Slave Island’ in Colombo where a murder committed by Indonesian slaves gets transformed into a ‘kaffir’ slave revolt in popular memory and guide books. This lecture will explore the social and political conditions that produced taxonomies and the political and moral projects that were served by the appearance and disappearance of certain categories of classification.

Friday 15 November
Venue: Wolfson Research Exchange, 3rd Floor Extension, Library Building

9.30-10.15 – Session I: Racialised Practices

Chair: Rebecca Earle (Warwick)

  1. Santanu Das (Oxford), 'The Colour of Memory: The racial politics of the centennial WW1 commemoration'
  2. Gabriela Ramos (Cambridge), 'Race, Law and Institutions in the Colonial Andes'

10.15-10.30 coffee/tea Break

10.30 - 11.45- Session II: Race and science

Chair: Nira Wickramasinghe (Leiden)

  1. James Poskett (Warwick), ‘Skulls, Books, and Busts: Writing the Global History of Racial Science, 1815-1920’.
  2. Michell Chresfield (Birmingham), ‘Tri-racial Isolates and Racially Ambiguous Others: DNA Ancestry Testing and Race-Marking in 20th Century America'

11.45-12.00 comfort break

12.00- 13.00 Session III: Race, literature and Victorian London

Chair: Santanu Das (Oxford)

  1. Caroline Bressey (UCL), ‘The global in the local: multi-ethnic stories from Victorian England’
  2. Jonathan Schroeder (Warwick), "John Swanson Jacobs: Mariner, Renegade, Castaway in Victorian London."

12.45--14.00 –Lunch

14.00 – 15.15: Session IV: Politics of Race

Chair: Anne Gerritsen (Warwick)

  1. Matthew Allen (French Studies, Warwick), 'Anténor Firmin and the Haitian anti-racist critique of historical diffusionism'
  2. Somak Biswas (History, Warwick ), 'Making Hinduism Respectable: Vivekananda, Vedanta and the (Racial)
    politics of a World Religion, 1890-1910'
  3. Liana Beatrice Valerio (History, Warwick), 'Mira á Esta Hija Predilecta…: Cuban Annexation and Coerced Masculinity in the Mid-Nineteenth Century Atlantic'

15.15-15.45 – Tea/coffee

15.45-17.00: Session V: Roundtable - Bodies and Borders: Race and/in the Contemporary

Chair: David Lambert (History)
Christine Okoth (English); Shahnaz Akhtar (Politics); Hannah Jones (Sociology), Aleema Gray (History)

This event is open to all. For any queries/RSVP:


Jacob Haafner, 'Mestissche vrouw'