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University debates problematic legacy of Bristol philanthropist and slave trader

Image of statue of Edward Colston

A statue of Edward Colston (1636-1721) stands in Bristol city centre

Press release issued: 4 May 2016

The problematic legacy of Edward Colston (1636-1721), one of Bristol’s most famous sons, will be the subject of a public debate tomorrow [Thursday 5 May] hosted by the University of Bristol at The Station.

The debate, ‘Talking Colston: Memory, Commemoration and Bristol's Slave Legacy’, has been arranged by the Bristol Institute for Research in the Humanities and Arts (BIRTHA) and brings together a panel of distinguished experts on the subject of slavery and its legacy.

Edward Colston is remembered for his philanthropy and memorialised in Bristol through the names of schools and a concert hall and by a statue in the city centre.  But in recent years, a growing awareness of Colston’s involvement in slavery and the slave trade has made this celebration seem problematic in a multicultural and multi-ethnic city such as Bristol.

Chair of the debate, Professor Christopher Bertram, Director of BIRTHA said: “Recent controversies, such as the demands of the Rhodes Must Fall movement for the removal of Cecil Rhodes’s statue in Oxford, have highlighted the ethical and political issues of memorialisation for a country with an imperial past.  Our distinguished panel of experts will debate these issues and there will also be space for the general public to contribute to the discussion.”

The speakers are: Dr Edson Burton, awriter, historian, and programmer working across Bristol’s voluntary, educational, arts and culture sectors; Dr Madge Dresser, Associate Professor of History at the University of the West of England, who has published widely on the field of slavery and its legacy in Bristol and beyond; Francis Greenacre, Former Curator of Fine Art at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and co-author of the Public Sculpture of Bristol, 2011; and Dr Olivette Otele, Senior Lecturer in History at Bath Spa University and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, who specialises in French and British colonial history and post-colonial legacies, memory, identity politics and geopolitics in the Atlantic World.

The BIRTHA Annual Debate, ‘Talking Colston: Memory, Commemoration and Bristol's Slave Legacy’ takes place on Thursday 5 May, from 6-8pm at The Station, Silver St, Bristol BS1 2AG.  All welcome

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