On December 18th 2018 I was involved in the Departmental organisation of what, we are told, was the biggest ever off-campus Widening Participation event in Warwick's history. The event was staged at the British Museum in London, and we had almost 150 Year 11 and Year 12 students attend. It was called 'The Politics of Memorialisation', and I spoke to the theme 'Memorialisation through Speech: The Politics of Apologising for the British Empire'. It was fitting that this talk took place in the British Museum, where a number of the exhibits are now deemed controversial because they came to the UK as a direct consequence of Empire. The day included a tour of the Museum conducted by our undergraduate student ambassadors, who showed the participating school students the Elgin Marbles, the Rosetta Stone and Hoa Hakananai'a, all of which have been the subject of ongoing campaigns for repatriation from people who treat their presence in the UK as evidence of imperial plunder. My talk triggered a heated debate amongst the students about the rights and wrongs of issuing historical apologies for actions that were undertaken in other times and under the influence of a very different system of morals to the one in place today. The debate itself has had an important afterlife, as it has sparked more invitations to schools to provide talks and more invitations to engage with school-aged students on the continually controversial question of how Britain made international markets for itself through Empire.
On November 14th 2018 I gave a talk to the Nuneaton Branch of the Historical Association. The ttile of my talk was 'Adam Smith, Enlightenment Sceptic of Empire'. In it, I suggested that the qualification 'Enlightenment' is important. There should be no doubting the fact that Smith, contrary to the position taken by the vast majority of his contemporaries, was opposed to Empire. Some of the most energetic performances recounted in his Glasgow Lectures came when he was outlining his attack on Empire; the same was also true of some of the least guarded passages in The Wealth of Nations. But Smith's scepticism of Empire was definitely of its time. He had overwhelmingly an economic critique of Empire, perhaps for the first time showing how it was possible to turn the image of economic inefficiencies into a political argument. It is much more usual today to think badly of Empire for the way in which it infringed upon all reasonable assumptions about human rights. Interestingly, such an argument can be reconstructed from the sympathy procedure that forms the cornerstone of Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, but it was one that Smith did not make for himself. Moreover, he raised to the position of role models in his Wealth of Nations the Glasgow tobacco merchants who he knew quite well. Yet they benefited from the economics of Empire in exactly the same way as did the East India Company, the real focus of his critique. And they created monopoly conditions from which to benefit in exactly the same way as did it. Moreover, the tobacco merchants made themselves rich on the back of a system of plantation that relied upon the labour of enslaved people. Smith was also a critic of slavery, but once again this was really only an economic argument. The system of slavery can never be as efficient as the system of free labour, he argued, because enslaved people simply do not have the incentives to work hard that free labourers do.
On October 23rd 2018 I was invited to speak at a Black History Month event organised by Lloyds Bank Inclusion and Diversity Division. The event had the title, 'A Mile in My Shoes: Putting the 'B' into BAME', and it was held at Chatham House in St James's Square in London. My paper was entitled, 'Windrush, Brexit and the Racialised Language of British History'. 150 Lloyds staff and guests were invited to hear a range of talks that reflected on the difficulties of a distinctively black history finding its voice in modern Britain and what this might mean for people of colour working within an organisation like Lloyds. As the one white person invited to speak, I thought that it was beholden upon me to talk about the continuing effects of white privilege and how this phenomenon is currently evident within the Brexit debate. This same theme was prominent in lots of the questions asked at the 'Question Time'-style roundtable, where the audience asked the panel members whether they believed contemporary Britain was moving closer towards or further away from racial equality.
On July 21st 2018 I appeared in an 'In Conversation' slot at the annual Belgrade Mela in Coventry and was also interviewd by Radio Plus. The Mela is a public event hosted at the Belgrade Theatre to celebrate South Asian arts and culture within the UK and, more specifically, within the Coventry and Warwickshire region. I was interviewed by my Department's Widening Participation Officer, Shahnaz Akhter, before the discussion was opened up to a Q&A session with the audience. The theme was the Colonial Hangover project that we have been running with local schools, showcasing the activities we have put on for students within the region and, more generally, asking how modern-day Coventry is located in relation to the ongoing political and economic structures of imperial legacies. At the instigation of both Shahnaz and the audience, there was a distinct Brexit theme to the developing conversation.