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Slavery, Memory and Memorialisation (AM417)

Thinking of taking this module next year? There will be a new assessment structure. Click here for details.

Module Leader

Phone: 02476 523408 (internal extension 23408)
Office: Room H3.33, third floor of the Humanities Building

Office hours: Monday, 12-1 and Tuesday, 12.30-1.30 (during term) or by appointment (see here)

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Aims and objectives

This 30 CATS final-year Advanced Option module will examine the place of memory and memorialisation in relation to slavery and its aftermath in the Atlantic world. The commemorative events surrounding the two hundredth anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade in 2007, along with current demands made for Western governments to apologise for past involvement in slavery and to pay reparations to the descendants of slaves, have shown the continuing significance of the memory of slavery. However, this module will not only explore the construction of public memory about slavery (as well as forms of forgetting) as a twentieth and twenty-first century phenomenon, but consider how memory and memorialisation and have operated in the past. The module is in three parts: memory in the era of slavery; remembering slavery after emancipation; and remembering slavery today. In each case, individual and collective memories are examined through their expression in texts (such as slave narratives), speech and performances (such as oral cultures), and sites and landscapes (such as monuments and museums). Throughout, memory is considered as a means through which identities are understood and expressed, and as a contested realm of social and political struggle. The primary focus of the module is on the Caribbean, and how slavery in and slave-trading to the region are remembered in the UK. Comparative material will also be drawn from the USA, Brazil and West Africa. The module uses historical work on memory and also attends to debates in related fields, such as sociology, cultural geography and the interdisciplinary field of ‘memory studies’.

Module outline

The module starts with the 2007 commemoration of the bicentenary of the abolition of the British slave trade before introducing some of the key ideas that can be used to study memory, such as trauma, haunting and surrogation. The rest of the first term examines how individual and collective memories were a site of struggle in Caribbean slave societies, especially in the context and aftermath of slave insurrections. We will also consider how emancipation itself was commemorated, as well as the role of historians in shaping how the ending of slavery has been remembered. In the second term, we move to consider how the formal ending of slavery is remembered and memorialised today by examining the role of museums, fictional writing and ‘slavery tourism’, as well as the politicisation of the memory of slavery in demands that have been made for apologies and reparations.

For more details, please see the module timetable.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module you should be able to:

  • demonstrate enhanced study, writing and communication skills, in both written work and group discussion
  • exhibit an enhanced capacity for independent study skills, clear/concise expression and critical analysis
  • show understanding of key themes and case studies relating to the memorialisation of slavery in Europe, Africa and the Americas
  • show some capacity to engage with conceptual debates relevant to the study of (social and cultural) memory
  • critically assess past and present efforts to memorialise slavery, including through comparative approaches
  • demonstrate the application of theories and approaches to memory and slavery during a museum fieldtrip


There is no single textbook for this module. Please see the general reading list.

Preparing for the module

A major focus of this module is going to be the 2007 bicentenary of the British Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. For a sense of what was at stake and some of the attendant controversies, start with the following newspaper article:

Lola Young, 'The truth in chains', The Guardian, 15 March 2007.

Why not also go and see an exhibition on Britain's involvement in the slave trade, slavery and abolition, such as...

We'll be visiting three of these on fieldtrips during the module (to Liverpool and London).

Teaching and learning

This module consists of 16 two-hour seminars, a review session and 2 fieldtrips to Liverpool and London. The seminars take place on Mondays, 10-12 in Room B2.03 (Science Concourse, 2nd floor). For a week-by-week breakdown, see the module timetable.

Seminars consist largely of class discussion based on the assigned reading. There are no lectures. You will be expected to complete all the assigned seminar reading and other work, and to write two non-assessed papers of 2,000 words each. If you wish, you may also complete a past exam question. The deadlines for non-assessed work as follows:

  • Short essay (2000-words max.) – due Monday, 12 November (week 7, term 1)
  • Short essay or report on London fieldtrip (2000-words max.) – due Monday, 18 February (week 7, term 2)
  • Past exam answer (optional; write in exam conditions) – due Monday, 29 April (week 2, term 3)

Use the seminar questions for short essay titles or see list here.


The assessment for this module is determined by whether or not the student will be basing a Dissertation on the module:

  • For students who are not basing a Dissertation on this module: a two-hour exam and a 4,500 word essay
  • For students who are basing a Dissertation on this module: Three-hour exam

For details of examination and assessment, please see:

You will be expected to play a central role in finding your own topic and sources, and coming up with a title, so start planning your assessed work early. One suggestion for the long essay for this module is to provide a critical reading of a specific memorialisation of Atlantic slavery (e.g. a museum exhibition, monument, book, film etc.). Remember that your assessed essay must not overlap in any significant way with the topics covered in your short essays.

2017 trip

BrookesAm I Not a Woman and a Sister?Emancipation statueSlave fort, Ghana