This talk discusses the importance of the city of Manchester and its inhabitants to the abolition of slavery in both Britain and the United States. Although «Cottonopolis» grew wealthy from the processing and sale of slave-grown commodities, it was also a major site of anti-slavery activism, and its visitors included not only celebrated abolitionists such as Thomas Clarkson but former slaves such as Frederick Douglass and Henry «Box» Brown, as well as black celebrities such as the Shakespearean actor Ira Aldridge and the «Hottentot Venus» Sarah Bartman.
The talk is delivered by Dr Natalie Zacek of the University of Manchester's American Studies programme.
The Portico Library opened its doors in 1806, just months before parliament first voted to abolish the Atlantic Slave Trade. These two events might seem relatively unrelated, but the library’s founding members included both high-profile abolitionists and pro-slavery activists. Although it was not a port city directly involved in the slave trade like Liverpool or Bristol, Manchester’s dramatic growth in population and prosperity in this era was closely linked to slavery, and as a result many Mancunians were passionate supporters of the system, while others were equally committed to its abolition.
The Portico Library's current exhibition 'Bittersweet: Legacies of Slavery & Abolition in Manchester' was proposed by Dr Natalie Zacek, and focuses on the numerous ways in which the city of Manchester and its inhabitants were connected to the history of slavery and its abolition. Through the display of historic texts, images, maps, and artefacts, it explores the ways in which late Georgian concepts of gentility rested upon the practices and profits of slavery. It also includes works in various media, created by artists of African descent, which dramatise the relationships between “home” and “away,” empire and colony, and slavery and freedom, all topics of constant debate within The Portico Library and on the streets of Manchester at the dawn of the nineteenth century.
Dr Natalie Zacek is a senior lecturer in English and American Studies at the University of Manchester and initiated this exhibition. She is on the editorial board of the Royal Historical Society’s New Historical Perspectives series and received her PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 2000. She is active member of the American Studies Research Group and the World Histories Group at UoM, and is affiliated with the Centre for the Study of Gender, Sexuality, and Culture and the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. She is a member of the Royal Historical Society, the American Historical Association, the British Group in Early American History, and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. In 2010 Natalie was awarded a UoM Community Service and Volunteer of the Year award for her involvement with the Manchester branch of the Samaritans. She is actively engaged in sharing her research and teaching expertise beyond the academic community and has taught several modules on slavery, abolition, and the American Civil War through the University's continuing education programme, led a workshop on the relationship between capitalism and transatlantic slavery at the Manchester Central Library, and given talks on black history at the Manchester Histories Festival and to community and school groups.
For more details contact The Portico Library on 0161 236 6785 or at [email protected]