This week the Modern Slavery Bill was debated by the House of Lords. Among the many anti-slavery campaigners taking a close interest was Professor Zoe Trodd, an expert in contemporary and historic slavery at The University of Nottingham.
Professor Trodd, from the Department of American and Canadian Studies, has received a grant worth over £1.8m from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to provide a usable past of antislavery examples and methods. The grant is one of three large awards announced by the AHRC under their ‘Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past’ theme, which aims to generate new understandings of the relationship between the past and the future.
Professor Trodd said: “There are approximately 30 million slaves alive today. Around the world, including in the UK, these disposable people are held against their will and forced to work for no pay.”
Over the past 15 years, a growing movement against this new global slavery has achieved many successes, including new legislation, a small number of prosecutions, changes to company supply-chains, and increased public awareness. But it is repeating mistakes of the past.
Professor Trodd said: “The movement often starts from scratch rather than learning from earlier antislavery successes and failures. And for many of us, the presence of slavery confounds our understanding of history: wasn't slavery brought to an end? Weren't the slaves emancipated? This confusion extends beyond the public to politicians, human rights groups, and educators. But we have a chance to end slavery within our own lifetimes and to do so by learning the lessons of past antislavery movements.”
Unearthing the past to inform the future
The project will unearth the details of past antislavery strategies and translate their important lessons into tools for policy makers and civil society. As it offers antislavery as a protest memory in this way, it will emphasise that what earlier antislavery generations achieved was harder than what we face now.
Professor Andrew Thompson, AHRC Theme Leadership Fellow for the Care for the Future theme, said: “These awards promise to develop ambitious, transformative research agendas in their fields, and to build fruitful relationships with a variety of partner organisations. I look forward to seeing these projects develop from strong concepts to beacons for the Care for the Future theme.”
The five year project brings together a team from The University of Nottingham (Professor Zoe Trodd), The University of Hull (Professor Kevin Bales and Professor John Oldfield) and Queens University Belfast (Professor Jean Allain). The four professors will work with a number of international partner organisations including Walk Free, the International Slavery Museum and Yale University, and will welcome PhD students and postdoctoral fellows to the team.
Professor Stephen Mumford, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts, said: “I am delighted that The University of Nottingham is involved in this vitally important project, which shows the crucial role of the humanities in linking the past and the future. Ultimately, it’s a question of what we value and how we want a future world to be. Central to that has to be an understanding of the equal value of all members of humanity.”
Professor Peter Ling, Head of American and Canadian Studies, said: “As a department we are immensely proud to show how our international and interdisciplinary expertise in the field of race and rights can impact the global injustice of contemporary slavery.”
Professor Trodd said: "As the Modern Slavery Bill makes its way through Parliament, and in the wake of the 200th anniversary of the ending of the transatlantic slave trade, we seek a usable antislavery past and remember the words of the great African American abolitionist and former slave, Frederick Douglass: “We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.””
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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with campuses in China and Malaysia modelled on a headquarters that is among the most attractive in Britain’ (Times Good University Guide 2014). It is also the most popular university in the UK among graduate employers, in the top 10 for student experience according to the Times Higher Education and one of the world’s greenest universities. It is ranked in the world’s top 1% of universities by the QS World University Rankings.
Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…