The British Slave Trade and Public Memory

The British Slave Trade and Public Memory

The British Slave Trade and Public Memory

The British Slave Trade and Public Memory

Synopsis

How does a contemporary society restore to its public memory a momentous event like its own participation in transatlantic slavery? What are the stakes of once more restoring the slave trade to public memory? What can be learned from this history? Elizabeth Kowaleski Wallace explores these questions in her study of depictions and remembrances of British involvement in the slave trade. Skillfully incorporating a range of material, Wallace discusses and analyzes how museum exhibits, novels, television shows, movies, and a play created and produced in Britain from 1990 to 2000 grappled with the subject of slavery.

Topics discussed include a walking tour in the former slave-trading port of Bristol; novels by Caryl Phillips and Barry Unsworth; a television adaptation of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park; and a revival of Aphra Behn's Oroonoko for the Royal Shakespeare Company. In each case, Wallace reveals how these works and performances illuminate and obscure the history of the slave trade and its legacy. While Wallace focuses on Britain, her work also speaks to questions of how the United States and other nations remember inglorious chapters from their past.

Excerpt

On an untypical late spring Sunday in Bath, the sky is uninterrupted by cloud, pedestrians free from the threat of imminent drenching. The sun is relentless in its warmth and intensity, and the city is making the most of its cheer. Near North Parade, the operators of double-decker tourist buses are busy working the crowds, promising a narrated introduction to the city's historical and architectural highlights: the Roman Baths, the Pump Room, the Assembly, the Royal Crescent, and the Circus. If the events of September 11, 2001, have thinned the crowds of American tourists who have come to take in the sights, equally enthusiastic British tourists do their best to compensate for their numbers. Oversized tourist coaches, towering in the narrow eighteenth-century streets, carry excursioners who have come to Bath for the day, or perhaps the weekend. Among these are well-dressed women and men of a certain age with shopping bags, peering into shop windows. Many of these eschew the newly popular Starbucks in favor of Sally Lunn's traditional cream tea. Their numbers are supplemented by family groups who have come for the day by car. Ice creams melting in hand, they stroll through the Abbey Churchyard, past the benches where the city's homeless inhabitants soak up the warm sun, past the street musicians and painted human statues, past the Cornish pasty shop, past Cheap Street, and on up to Milsom Street, a route as popular in Jane Austen's time as it is now.

Just beyond the route of the tourist buses lies a very different kind of tourist event: Walcot Nation day. Walcot Street, the home of antique and . . .

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