October Dialogues: ‘Unspeakable Things Unspoken’: Transatlantic Slavery – A Public Conversation: Day 1

 

On October 12th and 13th The University of Nottingham’s Centre for Research in Race and Rights (C3R) hosted the second annual October Dialogues conference at the Nottingham Contemporary. Following on from last year’s hard-hitting exploration of the Black Lives Matter movement, the October Dialogues’ sophomore year took the transatlantic slave trade as its focus.

Day one, which was supported by the British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences, adopted a conference format and included panels covering a wide range of topics relating to the ways in which slavery has figured in public history in Britain. The conference eschewed a conventional academic format and placed far greater emphasis on conversation, with attendees sat on round-tables to stimulate discussion. The vibrant, engaging, and constructive dialogues across the tables were testament to the value of this creative and inclusive approach, which more conferences should adopt in the future. The eclectic mix of attendees and presenters – which included museum and heritage professionals, artists, community historians, activists, academics, poets, performers and educators – made the day and discussions all the more rich.

The October Dialogues in full swing

The October Dialogues in full swing

Highlights of day one included a fascinating look at British pub signs depicting black people, led by Ingrid Pollard, and an inspiring discussion on the importance of community-led initiatives in preserving and transmitting histories of slavery, led by Boseda Olawoye, Lisa Robinson, and Toyin Agbetu, who gave a stirring rendition of an activist chant to kick off their panel. The conference stressed the significant impact that slavery has had on British society in the past and present. It challenged the troubling 2010 declaration that the transatlantic slave trade was no longer a statutory subject in the national curriculum and confronted UKIP’s disturbing assertion that the teaching of slavery in schools undermines Britishness and British values. In the context of the recent rightward turn in British politics, the conference demonstrated the continuing need for the public and academics to engage critically with slavery and its legacies.

Panya performing her poetry

Panya performing her poetry

An evening of music and poetry, co-curated by Renaissance One, followed and added another level of discourse to the October Dialogues. Local poet, Panya Banjoko, opened the event with her captivating verse – her exploration of Black British experience was deeply affecting. Michael Brome and Marcus Joseph followed with a lively spoken word and saxophone music piece commissioned by literature curator Melanie Abrahams. To close out the evening, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze engaged in candid conversation with Professor Abigail Ward (University of Nottingham) and gave a wonderful and warm performance of her poetry, which took Caribbean women as its focus and spoke to the interconnected themes of race and gender, and slavery and colonialism.

 

Scott Weightman is the M3C-C3R Postgraduate Director for Journey to Justice: Nottingham. He is a Midlands3Cities AHRC funded History and American Studies PhD student based at the University of Leicester and the University of Nottingham. His research project assesses the use of mass media by segregationists in their effort to defend the continuation of segregation during the 1950s and 1960s. For more information see http://bit.ly/1iTqPmJ

Contact Scott via sw446@le.ac.uk

 
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