A British university has appointed the country’s first black female professor of history to lead research into the transatlantic slave trade.
Olivette Otele will take up her new role as the University of Bristol’s first Professor of the History of Slavery on January 1, the institution said in a press release.
Her first task will be a two-year research project on the university’s and the city of Bristol’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade.
Bristol’s wealth in the 17th century was largely built on the slave trade, with more than 2,000 slaving vessels setting out from the city’s port between 1698 and 1807, when Parliament abolished the slave trade, according to Bristol Museums.
During that period, slave ships carried more than 500,000 people from Africa to the Americas.
In Bristol, a street and several buildings are named after Colston. Last year, the city council’s plan to put a plaque on Colston’s statue explaining his links to the slave trade led to a row over its wording.
Professor Otele, who was born in Cameroon, said in a statement that she wants to “bring together Bristolians from all communities, and scholars, artists and educators who are willing to contribute to a stronger and fairer society.”
“I want students to see me as a facilitator of a dialogue that needs to take place and that is about the role of the University of Bristol in the transatlantic slave trade,” she said.
“I want to produce a rigorous and an extensive piece of research that will be relevant to the University, to the city and that will be a landmark in the way Britain examines, acknowledges and teaches the history of enslavement.”
Professor Judith Squires, the university’s Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, said: “As an institution founded in 1909, we are not a direct beneficiary of the slave trade, but we fully acknowledge that we financially benefited indirectly via philanthropic support from families who had made money from businesses involved in the transatlantic slave trade.
“This new role provides us with a unique and important opportunity to interrogate our history, working with staff, students and local communities to explore the University’s historical links to slavery and to debate how we should best respond to our past in order to shape our future as an inclusive University community.”
Earlier this year, another British institution, Cambridge University, launched an academic study into the ways in which it contributed to or benefited from the transatlantic slave trade.