International Day for the Abolition of Slavery

2 December has been designated the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, focusing on eradicating contemporary forms of slavery. It is estimated that 21 million people are still trapped in forms of slavery across the globe.

Plan of a slave ship

Plan of a slave ship

2007 marked the bicentenary of the Act of Parliament abolishing the slave trade. Many events took place in the UK to commemorate this, including an exhibition in the Special Collections Gallery at the University of Southampton. Drawing on material from its manuscript and printed collections, this Special Collections exhibition looked at the origins of slavery and the case for abolition, slavery and the West Indies, abolition in 1807 and the process of abolition throughout the nineteenth century. After 1807, there were continued pressure for further measures against slavery and bilateral agreements were concluded with other powers, European, American and African, in order to bring the trade to a halt. Throughout the nineteenth century anti-slavery societies, the British government, the Royal Navy, enforcing anti-slavery conventions, and the governments of other western powers continued to work for the general abolition of slavery.

Material on the slave trade can be found in two of the archive collections nineteenth-century politicians held at Southampton: that of the first Duke of Wellington (MS 61) and of third Viscount Palmerston (MS 62). During Wellington’s time as Prime Minister, 1828-30, for instance, endeavours were made to encourage colonial legislatures to adopt measures that ameliorated the position of the slaves. The Palmerston archive includes papers on the abolition of the African slave trade into Brazil.

Album of the Female Society of Birmingham... for the Relief of British Negro Slaves - Rare Books HT 1163

Album of the Female Society of Birmingham… for the Relief of British Negro Slaves – Rare Books HT 1163

The most notable printed collection is the Oates collection of over 220 books and pamphlets on the West Indies and the abolition of slavery, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. The 1820s and 1830s are particularly well represented as are works of prominent abolitionists such as Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce.

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