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GRADUATION: Inspirational historian honored for telling the honest story of empire

Catherine Hall

Catherine Hall, professor emerita at University College London, is a leading social and cultural historian. Her work on race, gender and empire is seen as inspirational and she is at the forefront of feminist historical writing and the ‘new imperial history’, which reinterprets Britain’s history in the light of its imperial connections. 

Since 2009 she has led the ESRC/AHRC project ‘Legacies of British Slave-ownership’, which seeks to put slavery back into the telling of British history. 

She says: “In demonstrating Britain's debt to slavery, one of the ways in which modern Britain has benefited from and been disfigured by its colonial past, we hope we are contributing to a richer, more honest understanding of the connected histories of empire.”

The project involved creating a database of all slave owners in Britain, the British West Indies, Mauritius and the Cap who received compensation for their enslaved human property at the time of emancipation in 1833.

In 2014 she and her colleagues published the collaborative volume Legacies of British Slave-ownership. The project has attracted world-wide attention, and led to a BBC 2 programme in 2015, presented by David Olusoga. In recent years, the group has researched the British slave-owners who were active in the Caribbean in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Her monographs include Civilising Subjects (2002), which explores the entangled yet forgotten connections between Birmingham and Jamaica in the mid-19th century, and Macaulay and Son (2012), which focused on the relationship between Zachary Macaulay, a leading abolitionist, and his son Thomas Babington Macaulay, whose History of England erased the Caribbean and slavery.

She is also the co-author, with Leonore Davidoff, of Family Fortunes (1987), a study of middle-class families between 1780 and 1850 in England that cast new light on society and gender relations.

Her current research centres on Edward Long and his family, leading slave-owners in Jamaica in the 17th and 18th centuries and powerful figures in the defence of the slave trade and slavery.

She says: “Over the last 30-plus years I have been part of the efforts to bring questions of gender, race and empire into the historical mainstream. We have seen many changes in how history is thought about and taught over that period - but there is still much to be done and the teaching of history remains a very controversial subject.”

Catherine Hall will be conferred an Honorary Doctor of the University on Wednesday, 24 July 2019

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By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Friday, 12 July 2019