This presentation draws on the work of the project on Legacies of British Slave Ownership which has been based in the History Department at University College London since 2009. The project is focused on the significance of slave ownership as one of the ways in which the fruits of the slave trade and slavery were transmitted to Britain and contributed to the development of a modern industrial capitalist society. A group of wealthy absentee owners, West Indians proprietors as they were called, based in the metropole, were able to invest the profits from their plantations in a variety of different ways – in merchant banking and shipping, in railways and insurance, in country houses and collections of art, and in imperial enterprises. They influenced the terms of emancipation, protected the interests of West Indian planters and merchants for two decades after the abolition of slavery, and contributed to the ways in which race was reconfigured once the figure of ‘the African’ could no longer be defined by enslavement. These legacies – economic, political and cultural – need to be documented and remembered.
The Colonial Legacy Conference examined the colonial and post-colonial heritage of the Treaty of Utrecht and assessed its legacy in contemporary scholarship on human trafficking, in the study of cultural memories of historical traumas, in practices of reconciliation and in popular culture.