Episode 199 of The Outlander Podcast is an interview with the cast and production team for 1745. I wrote about this film in an earlier post. That post also has links to the work of a team of historians at the University of Glasgow investigating runaway slaves in Scotland. The podcast interview is well worth a listen. The story in the film is fascinating, and as the writers mention, there is so much research yet to be done. I think it’s brilliant that this invisible history is being brought to the big screen.
Click here for a link to the Podcast
The short film 1745 An Untold Story of Slavery had its first screening last week in Edinburgh for cast, crew and supporters, and soon they are off to Cannes. The film highlights a forgotten part of Scotland’s history: while Scotland was fighting for its national freedom in that fateful year, its economy was in large part founded on the booming colonial slave trade. While the majority of slavery happened elsewhere – off-stage, across the Atlantic – there were African slaves here, kept as trophies and pets in the houses of their rich merchant masters. 1745 was inspired by advertisements that writer, Morayo Akandé, discovered for runaway slaves, placed in Scottish newspapers of the time.
Check out the beautiful website and trailer for the film here and follow updates on the Facebook page here.
For more on the historical background on runaway slaves in Britain – it’s well worth checking out the University of Glasgow/Leverhulme Trust’s project page for Runaway Slaves in Britain: Bondage, Freedom and Race in the Eighteenth Century. The project is ongoing and you can follow progress via their blog here.
My PhD research encompasses Irish, British and Caribbean history. When I tell people about my research topic, one of the first questions usually involves pirates – thanks largely to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Sadly I have no pirates in my thesis…
In contrast, Dr Rebecca Simon has been researching piracy for years. Her recently-completed PhD thesis is entitled “The Crimes of Piracy and its Punishment: The Performance of Maritime Supremacy in the British Atlantic World, 1670 – 1830.” For anyone interested in crime in the early modern Atlantic world, with piracy and the Caribbean thrown in, it’s worth following her on twitter, or via her blog here. Dr Simon writes about historical film and the media, among other things. This is a link to a great blogpost she wrote back in 2015 about the Pirates of the Caribbean (the film). She argues for the value of historical film as a learning tool – moving past the glitz and swashbuckling men in the Pirates films, there are numerous themes which can be explored in the context of Atlantic history. I detest historical inaccuracy in film as much as the next historian, but if the Pirates films manage to spark some interest in the cruel, complex Atlantic world of the 17th-18th centuries, then that is surely a positive.
In 2015, the BBC in Britain screened Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners, a 2-part documentary series, presented by David Olusoga. The series won a BAFTA TV award in the ‘Specialist Factual’ category in 2016. The documentary was produced in conjunction with the team at University College London who created the Legacies of British Slave Ownership database. This database has been very useful in my own research, and I’ll write more about it in another post.
Britain abolished slavery in 1834—’abolition’ as it’s called, is an event which is celebrated as a defining moment in Britain’s history, and rightly so. But abolition came at a price. The government of the day introduced a compensation scheme – not for the slaves, but for the slave-owners who lost ‘property’ (i.e. their slaves, who they counted as assets). The compensation scheme paid out £17 billion in today’s money to 46,000 slave owners. The slaves received nothing. The British bureaucracy responsible for the compensation scheme kept meticulous records, which are today held in The National Archives in London.
The TV series uses the records of the compensation scheme as a starting point to examine the development of slavery in the British world. Olusoga travels to Barbados and to the counties of Britain, exploring the human and financial impact of slavery. The series is well-researched, and provides an excellent overview of Britain’s links with slavery, particularly as it drew to a close in the nineteenth century. The research of the UCL academics featured in the programme, and Olusoga’s work translating this history for the screen is so important—Britain’s slave-owners and their enslaved Africans are so often forgotten in the rush to congratulate the abolitionists and emancipationists in Britain’s past.
Although the documentary aired in 2015, it is still possible to download both episodes from the BBC for a very small fee. Follow this link: Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners Video Download.
This is a link to the programme page for the documentary, which has more information and links to other useful resources.