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The University of Southampton

Award-winning Hollywood movie sparks new interest in the history of slavery

Published: 17 January 2014Origin: History
Dr Christer Petley

A ‘60 second guide to slavery’ written by Southampton historian Dr Christer Petley has been published on the BBC History magazine’s website. It is timed to coincide with the new movie about slavery 12 Years a Slave, which won the best film drama award at the Golden Globes.

Christer explains how the slave trade operated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the work slaves carried out for their owners and the conditions they endured on plantations.

“Many people tend to think slavery was concentrated in the southern states of the USA but most of the people transported across the Atlantic went to Brazil and the Caribbean,” he says.

The film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor with Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael K Williams tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. As Christer stresses, Northup was a vital witness to slavery as he experienced it first hand and was able to tell his story.

At Southampton, Christer teaches several popular modules on slavery at undergraduate and masters level. “Students usually know something about slavery before they start the course but they are fascinated to learn more about it and how it worked in practice,” he adds.

He researches the histories and legacies of slavery in the Americas, in particular slave societies in the British Caribbean and has published work on colonial societies, Jamaican slavery and the planter class.

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