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The Antislavery Usable Past

We offer the largest ever investigation and application of abolitionist lessons for contemporary antislavery.We seek a usable past of antislavery lessons, examples and methods. Theorising and embedding past antislavery as a protest memory—memory of protest used to protest—we emphasise that the antislavery usable past is a way to change the future. We champion the innovative use of heritage as a resource for social change. We map and monitor at-risk slavery heritage sites in countries and regions where slavery is endemic today, and we work with the heritage sector to embed contemporary antislavery in these memory organizations. We recover and utilise antislavery archives as a resource for new antislavery work. This impacts third sector archival practice and help to build institutional memory across civil society for the 2030 implementation work. At the same time, we are uncovering lesser known histories of slavery and antislavery as usable pasts for contemporary antislavery work, including the history of global indentured labour, the history of prostitution, and the history of definitional debates. We also explore the rich visual culture of contemporary antislavery, including artwork by former slaves. As in the 18th and 19th centuries, antislavery campaigners and artists use imagery to educate, change the debate, visualise liberation and propose solutions. Yet no one has gathered, examined or theorised this vibrant and ubiquitous imagery. We are therefore conducting the most extensive examination to date of contemporary antislavery visual culture. Archiving it as a digital resource, we are analysing its dynamics and offering today’s antislavery movement access to a much wider range of potential images and icons from which to draw.

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Professor Zoe Trodd

Zoe Trodd is a Professor in the Department of American and Canadian Studies at the University of Nottingham, founding co-director of the Centre for Research in Race and Rights, and co-director of the university's research priority area in Rights and Justice. Her focus is the history, literature and visual culture of protest movements, especially antislavery.

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Ibtisam Ahmed

Political utopianism looks at the engagement with contemporary socio-political debates in order to come up with solutions and changes in the pursuit of a new way of life. The British Empire, with its ideological focus of the “good life” and the “civilising project”, can arguably be called a conscious attempt at utopia. In this thesis, I examine the ways in which the British Raj influenced language, culture, wealth, technology, gender and sexuality, and religion using critical utopian theory, queer theory, and postcolonialism in attempt to rethink the mainstream narratives of Empire and its legacies.