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Repairing Historical Wrongs: Public History and Transatlantic Slavery

Oldfield, John


John Oldfield


On both sides of the Atlantic, states have tended to react nervously to reparative claims for slavery, just as they have tended to be wary of making apologies of any kind. In the absence of more radical gestures, public history has taken on an added significance, not least as a way of providing some kind of recompense for past suffering. But to what extent can public history be used to repair historical wrongs? This essay sets out to explore this question, taking as its point of departure the bicentenary of the abolition of the British slave trade (2007). In particular, it focuses on three inter-related areas of activity: heritage funding, museums and, finally, monuments and memorials. The 2007 commemorations generated a wide range of public history initiatives, from small-scale exhibitions, plays, workshops and installations to larger capital projects that in different ways, and with different degrees of success, reshaped representations of British transatlantic slavery and, in doing so, invited Britons to look again at the paradoxes embedded in national histories that first enslaved and then liberated persons of African descent.


Oldfield, J. (2012). Repairing Historical Wrongs: Public History and Transatlantic Slavery. Social & legal studies, 21(2), 243 - 255.

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Mar 19, 2012
Publication Date Jun 1, 2012
Deposit Date Nov 17, 2020
Journal Social and Legal Studies
Print ISSN 0964-6639
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 21
Issue 2
Pages 243 - 255
Keywords Abolition; Apologies; Heritage; History; Memorials; Museums; Reparations; Slavery
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