Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The need for context in historical events

Marble Hill House in Twickenham (picture from the English Heritage website)

Too often history is taught as isolated events. This may be through necessity but it often leaves subjects floundering and out of context. How many of us realise, for example, that the slave trade dragged on in the background whilst we were told about the industrial revolution, the French revolution, The Boston Tea Party, The American War of Independence, Cook’s explorations and other events, all as discrete events as though nothing else was happening in the world at that time?

We enjoy the writings of authors such as Jane Austen, the Bronte Sisters, Robert Burns, William Wordsworth and William Blake, and music by composers such as Mozart and Beethoven, yet we’re often oblivious to the times that they lived in. Our admiration of great country houses is for the lovely proportions and the aesthetics of the Georgian facade and many forget that both the exterior and interior opulence of such places were the result of some uglier truth.

Subjects in this vein of interest are being explored by University College London in two projects under the umbrella The Legacies of British Slave-ownership. The project is interested in investigating slave-owners to understand how slavery shaped British history, summarising the subject on their website:

“Colonial slavery shaped modern Britain and we all still live with its legacies. The slave-owners were one very important means by which the fruits of slavery were transmitted to metropolitan Britain.”

The UCL database allows you to see the links to slavery under different headings and we will add more links under our ‘About Slavery’ tab.