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October 11, 2010

History Division News
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» Slaves, Speed Demons, Snake Stones: New Welsh History?

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Why a 'New History of Wales'?

The Western Mail claims to be 'ripping up the stereotypes' for Welsh History Month. Three members of Glamorgan's history division have contributed to the newpaper's 'New History of Wales' series. Drawing on their recent research, they've tackled questions with contemporary resonance.

Did Wales nurture its own brand of science, independent of its neighbours? Alun Withey looks at the case of early modern medicine).

Have the Welsh always been politically engaged, fighting for the downtrodden? Chris Evans examines the Welsh contribution to anti-slavery.

Did Wales ever experience a golden age of morality - and have we now slipped from former high standards to become a 'loutish generation'? (<http: />Andy Croll on manners and morals in South Wales)

This initiative by the Western Mail reflects the huge public appetite for history - but is new academic research, challenging existing impressions, really what's wanted? Is this 'new history' knee-jerk iconoclasm? Is the emphasis on shattering stereotypes just media-friendly rhetoric?

As well as meeting popular demand, the 'New History of Wales' is one of the first public endeavours of History Research Wales, a collaboration between researchers at Welsh universities aiming to maximise results in the sector. These articles show the researcher at work - building on results from earlier historians but also finding ways to probe under-valued sources, to capture new voices from the past. It's this broader and more representative account of historic Wales which makes it possible to speak of a 'New Welsh History'.

August 14, 2010

History Division News
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» The End of Slavery

Chris Evans on Nicholas Draper's Price of Emancipation

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When Parliament abolished slavery in the British Empire in 1833 it set up a £20 million compensation fund. The compensation was not intended for the ex-slaves, however; it was awarded to their masters.

This was a huge sum of money, for which the British state had to raise the largest single loan in its history. But who did the money go to? This is the question that Nicholas Draper sets out to answer in The Price of Emancipation. He’s able to do so because the records of the Slave Compensation Commission, set up to administer the fund, are preserved at the National Archives in London.

By wading through a lot of material, Draper has been able to establish how many people in the British Empire actually owned slaves. He’s also been able to plot where slave owners lived. (Were they based in the West Indies or were they absentees living in Britain? And if living in Britain, where did they reside?)

The results reveal a lot about the importance of slave-generated wealth in British society at the start of the Victorian age. The research is on-going with the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership project at University College London .

The Price of Emancipation is only available in hardback at the moment but a cheaper paperback edition is likely. Meanwhile, read an extract here.

Chris Evans is the author of Slave Wales (forthcoming 2010) and teaches modules on Atlantic History and the Abolition of Slavery.

March 23, 2010

History Division News
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» Science, Race and Slavery

What we're reading: Chris Evans on Darwin's Sacred Cause

<image title="A table from Types of Mankind, by Josiah Clark Nott and George Robert Gliddon, 1854" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2010/3/23/one_race.jpg" alt="image for c19 racial theory">

Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin's Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins (Penguin, 2010).

The popular image of Charles Darwin is of a reclusive sage, wholly driven by his scientific interests. A rather different picture emerges in a new book by professors Desmond and Moore, whose 1991 biography of the great naturalist was highly acclaimed. In Darwin’s Sacred Cause they give us Charles Darwin as the enemy of slavery. Anti-slavery, they claim, was an abiding passion and one that influenced Darwin’s science.

His grandfathers, Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgwood, were both active opponents of the slave trade, and the young Charles grew up in a militantly abolitionist household. His epic voyage on HMS Beagle not only took him to places that influenced his evolutionary theory – like the Galapagos Islands – it took him to Brazil, where slavery was flourishing as never before in the 1830s. Darwin was haunted by the experience.

Desmond and Moore interpret Darwin’s views on evolution in this light. His insistence on the common ancestry of all human beings was a challenge to the new schools of anthropology, which were predictably popular in the slave states of the American South, that saw different races as having entirely separate ancestries.

Some of the scientific debates get a little involved but Desmond and Moore write in a lively fashion. Recommended to anyone interested in racism and anti-racism in the history of science. Darwin's Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins (Penguin, 2010) is available from via this link.

Chris Evans researches slavery and its abolition and teaches a second-year module on The Ending of Atlantic Slavery: 1776-1888

Image source and notes

October 28, 2009

History Division News
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» Story of Wales and Slavery

<image title="J.H. Stobwasser, Gracebay Plantation, Antigua, British West Indies, c. 1830" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/10/28/crop.jpg" alt="plantation illustration" />

Bittersweet: Sugar, Tea and Slavery at the National Assembly

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How are our lives connected to the world of Atlantic slavery? One clue may lie in the things we eat and drink. For example, the well-sugared cup of tea first become part of the British way of life in the eighteenth century and the ‘cuppa’ has never gone away. Therein lies a story...

Find out more by visiting a new exhibition at the National Assembly of Wales in Cardiff that traces the connections between Wales and slavery. Bittersweet: Sugar, Tea and Slavery – A Story of Wales & Slavery looks at the problem through the history of food and gardens, by tracing the connections between Caribbean slavery and our diet, especially the institution of afternoon tea.

The exhibition, which marks Black History Month, is the work of the charity Gateway Gardens Trust, which has organised a Heritage Lottery Funded series of visits to gardens in Wales established by slave traders, plantation owners or abolitionists. The exhibition at the Senedd marks the culmination of the project.

I should declare an interest. I was the historical consultant to the Bittersweet project and a book I’ve written that explores some of the issues raised by the project – and much else besides – will be published next year by the University of Wales Press: Slave Wales: the Welsh and Atlantic slavery.

Chris Evans

February 16, 2009

History Division News
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» News from the Classroom: Violence in America

Third Year Option: Violence in America

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The United States of America is a violent country. On any average day in the U.S. there are 81 gun-related deaths. The murder rate for American men aged between 15 and 24 is 37 per 100,000 — 60 times that of England and Wales. In 25 years of terrorist violence in Northern Ireland, 3,000 people died. However, even this horrendous death toll pales in comparison to the murder rate of just one large American city. In New York, over 2,000 people were murdered every year from 1987 to 1994. The response of American law enforcement is to fight violence with violence: according to Amnesty International, in 2002 a total of 71 prisoners were executed in the United States — more than in Syria, North Korea Saudi Arabia and Libya combined.

The United States also exports violence abroad. Even in peacetime, it spends more on its defence budget than the next dozen countries combined. From the Berlin Blockade until just prior the World Trade Center attacks, there were over 200 American military incursions in other countries. No wonder that in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Noam Chomsky reminded Americans that they should “recognize that in much of the world the U.S. is regarded as a leading terrorist state”.

Using examples from American literature, television, cinema, comic books, and popular music, the students on Brian Ireland's second-year module, Violence in America, are investigating America’s culture of violence. Why is the United States so violent? Some argue that the entertainment industry is to blame. Through watching contact sports, Hollywood movies, music videos, computer games and television shows, Americans unarguably are exposed to many violence images. For example, one survey has estimated that the average American child sees 200,000 violent acts on television by age 18, and witnesses 16,000 murders. Yet American culture is exported around the world, with no corresponding increase in levels of violence in those countries that are the most eager consumers of violent American entertainment. Some argue that America’s brutal past acts as a paradigm for today’s violent society. Perhaps the seeds of violence sown during the frontier wars against Native Americans, or during the African slave trade, are now being reaped? The United States is, however, not exceptional in having a violent history. Germany and Japan were responsible for two world wars, yet now have much lower levels of violent crime than the United States. Maybe it is the high level of gun ownership that leads to violence? The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that citizens have the “right to bear arms”, and this is one right that Americans are not slow to exercise: the FBI estimates, for example, that there are over 200 million privately-owned firearms in the United States. Nevertheless, gun owners claim that their weapons make them safer: the influential National Rifle Association promotes firearm ownership, claiming that citizens need to be armed to safeguard their political liberties. Indeed, they might argue, if it were not for well-armed citizen militias, the U.S. might still be part of the British Empire!

January 5, 2009

History Division News
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» Do you have an ancestor who went to Cuba in the nineteenth century?

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Do you have an ancestor who went to Cuba in the nineteenth century?

If you do, historian Chris Evans would like to hear from you. He’s writing a book called Slave Wales, which looks at the importance of Atlantic slavery in Welsh history. It’s a story in which Cuba plays a part. Evans explains: “A lot of people imagine that the abolition of the British slave trade in 1807 dealt a death-blow to the system of Atlantic slavery. But that’s not true. The number of slaves in the Atlantic world was expanding, not shrinking in the first half of the nineteenth century.”

Cuba was one of slavery’s major growth points. This was largely because of the rapid take-off of sugar cultivation in the west of the island in the early 1800s, but it was also because of copper mining in the eastern Sierra Maestra in the 1830s and 1840s. And that’s where there’s a Welsh connection.

The Swansea and Neath valleys were the world’s most important centres of copper smelting in the nineteenth century. Most of the ore was shipped in from Cornwall, but by the late 1820s the big copper firms were investigating ores from overseas, especially those from the mines of El Cobre in Cuba. Welsh industrialists invested heavily in them. Much of that investment went into buying slaves.

Hundreds of enslaved Africans worked at the behest of Welsh industry. They provided the bulk of the workforce, but there was also a layer of imported experts: miners and engineers from Cornwall and Wales. Dozens of workers left Wales for Cuba in the 1840s and 1850s. Some were from Merthyr Tydfil, others from the Swansea district, still others from the coalfield around Wrexham. Many died in Cuba, victims of yellow fever. Others must have returned to Victorian Wales after their encounter with the brutal world of Caribbean slavery.

Do you know of any? If you do, email to cevans3@glam.ac.uk.

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