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Unit information: Bristol and Slavery (Level H Special Subject) in 2020/21

Unit name Bristol and Slavery (Level H Special Subject)
Unit code HIST30078
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Stone
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


‘The bricks of Bristol are baked in the blood of slaves.’ This quote from an eighteenth century annalist sums up one of the most controversial debates in Britain’s (and particularly Bristol’s) economic history – how significant was the contribution of exploited African slaves to the growth of Britain’s economy and society? This unit takes an innovative approach to assessing this impact, and slavery’s ongoing legacy. Previous studies have sought to trace the destination of slave derived wealth, naming names of great institutions and individuals which benefitted from this blood money. Using the city of Bristol as a case study, however, we will take the opposite approach, tracing how and why the city developed in the era of the slave trade from the ground up, and then assessing the role which slavery played in this. We will look at the growth of trade and industry in the city, as well as the gentrification and ‘Urban Renaissance’ which Bristol experienced in the eighteenth century. We will also consider the extent to which Bristol can be used as a case study for the impact of slavery on Britain as a whole, and finally examine the much contested question of how slavery is remembered and commemorated today. Engaging closely with material in the local archives and Bristol’s own special collections, the unit forms an ideal accompaniment for those undertaking dissertations focused on local research.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of this unit, successful students will be able to demonstrate:

  1. An in-depth and detailed knowledge and understanding of the nature and development of the early modern Atlantic slave economy and its impact on the city of Bristol.
  2. The ability to work at an advanced level with primary, including archival, sources.
  3. The ability to integrate both primary and secondary source material into a wider historical analysis.
  4. A deeper awareness of how to approach long term historical analysis.
  5. The ability to select pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate more general historical points.
  6. The ability to identify a particular academic interpretation, evaluate it critically, and to form and express an individual viewpoint.

Teaching details

Classes will involve a combination of class discussion, investigative activities, and practical activities. Students will be expected to engage with readings and participate on a weekly basis. This will be further supported with drop-in sessions and self-directed exercises with tutor and peer feedback.

Assessment Details

1 x 3500-word Essay (50%) [ILOs 1-6]; 1 x Timed Assessment (50%) [ILOs 1-6]

Reading and References

M. Dresser, Slavery Obscured: The Social History of the Slave Trade in Bristol, (Bristol, 2007).

M. Dresser and P. Ollerenshaw (eds.), The Making of Modern Bristol, (Bristol, 1996).

K. Morgan, Bristol and the Atlantic Trade in the Eighteenth Century, (Cambridge, 1993).

K. Morgan (ed.), The Bright-Meyler Papers: A Bristol-West India Connection, 1732-1837, (Oxford, 2008).

D. Richardson, Bristol, Africa, and the Eighteenth Century Slave Trade to America, Bristol Record Society (4 vols Bristol, 1986-1996).

R. Stone, ‘The Overseas Trade of Bristol in the Seventeenth Century’, Unpublished PhD Thesis (University of Bristol, 2012).