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Statues must fall? Remembering and forgetting slavery in the Atlantic world (HI3S8-30)

Module leader

Phone: 02476 523408 (internal extension 23408)
Office: Room 3.07, third floor of the Faculty of Arts Building
Office hours (no need to book):
  • Wednesday, 12.00-1.00
  • Thursday, 1.30-2.30

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Module overview

This final-year 30 CATS module examines how slavery, abolition, resistance and their legacies have been remembered - or not - across the Atlantic world (Europe, Africa and the Americas, especially the Caribbean). The commemorative events surrounding the two hundredth anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade in 2007, along with the demands made for Western governments and other institutions – including universities – to apologise for past involvement in slavery and to pay reparations to the descendants of enslaved people, have shown the continuing significance of the memory of slavery. Such issues were played out in a dramatic, public fashion with the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol in 2020 and subsequent debates about how Britain's past is commemorated.

However, this module will not only explore the construction of public memory about slavery (as well as forms of forgetting) as twenty-first century phenomenon, but consider how memory and memorialisation and have operated in the past. Throughout, individual and collective memories are examined through their expression in texts, sites and performances. Across the module, 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 Europe, but it will also consider 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’.

Key to this module's assessment is an 'applied' history assignment consisting of a museum-style display panel on a topic relating to slavery, abolition, resistance and their legacies. The panel will include images and around 1000 words of text (titles, image captions and other content). It will be accompanied by an essay of around 2000 words explaining how and why the panel was designed. The maximum total for both pieces is 3000 words. This display panel will be the work of each individual (i.e. not group work) on a topic chosen by the student. The support for this task will include visits to real museums (COVID-19 restrictions permitting), an opportunity to present draft displays and guidance from the seminar tutor. This applied task will give you the chance to present historical knowledge and arguments to a non-academic audience. Whether or not you are interested in slavery in the Atlantic world and its legacies, it will be highly applicable to those considering work in the heritage or museum sectors, or where you will have to convey knowledge to non-specialist audiences (e.g. teaching, journalism and media).

Module outline

The module begins with the toppling of a statue of Edward Colston, who profited from the trade in enslaved African men, women and children in the seventeenth century, in Bristol in June 2020, before reviewing key concepts that can be used to study memory. It then examines some of the historical ways in which memory and slavery have been intertwined, before turning to contemporary manifestations, including film and the ‘neo-slave narrative’ literary genre. Early in term 2, we will focus on the commemoration of Atlantic slavery, its consequences, ending and legacies in museums, which will include a fieldtrip. The module ends by considering some recent issues such as ‘slavery tourism’, demands for apologies and reparations, and the questions around decolonising universities.

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 through the applied task of designing a museum display panel


There is no single textbook for this module. Specific, required readings are available on each week's seminar page, as well as via Talis Aspire.

Preparing for the module

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 two of these on fieldtrips during the module (to London).

Teaching and learning

This module consists of 17 two-hour seminars, a long essay session and a fieldtrip to London.

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.


There is no exam and there are no non-assessed essays. This is the ‘Final Year Advanced Option 1 (Applied)’ assessment model, which consists of four elements:

  1. 1500-word short essay (10%)
  2. Oral participation (10%) - this mark will be based on your presentation of your draft display panel in Term 2, week 5, including answering follow-up questions, as well as asking questions of other students in the same session.
  3. 3000-word 'applied' history assignment, consisting of a display panel and accompanying explanatory essay (40%)
  4. 3000-word long essay (40%)

For deadlines, see those for ‘Final Year Advanced Option 1 (Applied)’ here.

Please note that the assessment remains unchanged even if you link your dissertation to this module.

You will be expected to play a central role in finding your own topics and sources, and coming up with titles, perhaps based on seminar questions, so start planning your assessed work early. Remember that the content of your different pieces of assessed written work must not overlap in any significant way.

Empty plinth

2020 fieldtripAm I Not a Woman and a Sister?Edward Colston fallsEmancipation statueSlave fort, Ghana


Glasgow University reparations