How will these resources help you?

With the focus on removal of colonial statues and on slave profiteers in the UK and the US, the role of the British empire in slavery is rightly under the spotlight, and many teachers want to facilitate discussions. These resources aim to help students examine Britain’s role in the slave trade.

An introduction

Slavery and the British Empire: From Africa to America

by Kenneth Morgan, published by Oxford University Press, (2007), 9780192892911

This resource gives a detailed overview of British involvement with slavery, covering the economic, social, political, cultural and demographic history. Morgan shows how deeply embedded slavery was in Britain’s domestic and imperial history. As well as a source to spark discussion, the book could be used as a source of many tasks. 

How slavery built the British empire

Slave Empire: How Slavery Built Modern Britain

by Padraic X. Scanlan, published by Little, Brown (Hachette), (2022), 9781472142337

This resource looks at how the money, power and territory gained by means of slavery created and maintained the British empire, and how, though it officially abolished slavery in its empire in 1833, Britain continued to benefit from the trade structures it had set up. It examines how even the anti-slavery movement was itself shaped by the slave empire. This resource is useful to help students understand the issues that many within the empire had with how the empire was being built on the back of slavery. 

Primary sources

The British Empire and Slavery

by John Simkin, published by Spartacus Educational, (1997, updated 2002)

This resource offers a very useful summary of the history of European enslavement of people from Africa, from the fourteenth century to the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. It includes an account of the British Royal African Company, the dire treatment of enslaved people, the role of the Church of England and the anti-slavery movement. Its collection of primary sources from a variety of voices could be used for research projects or source work. 

An example of a slave revolt

Island on Fire: The Revolt That Ended Slavery in the British Empire

by Tom Zoellner, published by Harvard University Press, (2022), 9780674271159

This is an excellent and compelling account of a major revolt caused by the effects of slavery. A peaceful strike led by enslaved Baptist preacher Samuel Sharpe turned into a revolt, which was violently put down by British troops, leaving thousands of enslaved people dead. The horror of what had occurred turned public opinion against slavery and forced Britain to move to abolish slavery in its Empire within two years of the uprising. Zoellner uses primary sources to tell the story on a day-by-day basis. You could use this to broaden understanding of how the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 came about.

Audiovisual clip

Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners - The beginnings of the British slave trade

published by BBC, (2015)

David Olusoga investigates the beginnings of British-owned plantations in Barbados.
Quiz - student's copy
Test your students' knowledge with these questions on the above clip.
Includes a Vocabulary section and a Take It Further challenge.
Quiz - teacher's copy
Test your students' knowledge with these questions on the above clip (with answer key).
Includes a Vocabulary section and a Take It Further challenge.

Further Materials

Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners (teacher resources) by David Olusoga (presented by), published by BBC Teach, (2021) Go to resource
Legacies of British Slave-Ownership: Colonial Slavery and the Formation of Victorian Britain by Catherine Hall et al., published by Cambridge University Press, (2016), 9781316635261 Find this book
Black Ivory: Slavery in the British Empire (2nd Edition) by James Walvin, published by Blackwell, (2001), ‎9780631229605 Find this book
Doing Justice to History: Transforming Black history in secondary schools (Kindle edition) by Abdul Mohamud and Robin Whitburn, published by Trentham Books, (2016), ‎B01HFH6UZ4 Find this e-book
Christopher Terry is a former Head Teacher and former academic lead for Teaching and Learning in various British and International Schools, and he has been a teacher of History for 15 years. He works as an examiner and also delivers ITT History Teacher Training in the North West of England and Internationally. He also has been a specialist advisor to OFQUAL for History and has been recognised by the Historical Association as an outstanding practitioner. 

Text © Christopher Terry, 2021.