black history and the transatlantic imagination

By Ellie-Anderson Ingham

I am currently trying to think of a word to encapsulate the sheer brilliance of the annual Black History Month talk which I attended yesterday. The ethos, which brought together provocative talks and inspiring speakers, was heart-warming. You could have heard a pin drop.

First was a talk by Helen Pleasance, Lecturer in Creative Writing, on the cotton industry. Titled ‘Touching Transatlantic Lives’, the talk focused on one of the most popular industrial areas in England: Manchester. In 19th-century Manchester, mill workers and factory owners were mostly against the use of cotton which had been picked by US slaves. Their resistance against slavery was seen through the refusal to work with cotton which had been picked by US slaves, leaving 60% of spindles and looms idle and rendering many jobless. However, Liverpool (the major textiles producing city in Britain at the time), was the most pro-confederate area in England and matched numerous Southern states in America. The decline in cotton was an imagination of the new social fabric.

The second paper, by History’s Elodie Duché, discussed the “months of memories”, a Francophone response to Black History Month which works to recognise the legacies of slavery and its abolition. In 2001, France recognised slavery as a crime against humanity and has been taking steps to account for the colonialism. Previously they had been silent on issues surrounding Black History Month, which has not, historically, been marked by either the French state or in French academia.

Next, Literature’s Adam Smith discussed the strange relationship between capitalism and social activism in Marvel comics, tracing a history of representation from Spider-Man’s resistance to Vietnam in the late 60s through to Ta Nehisi Coates’ current work on Black Panther, which can be read to signify as both Marvel’s progressive social conscience and the interests of rampant capitalism. Coates’ Black Panther was deemed such a critical and commercial success that Marvel employed two women of colour, Roxane Gay and Yona Harvey, to write the World of Wakanda, a new comic centring on the experience of two black, female lovers. Sadly, it was discontinued after six months. When asked about this in an interview with Bleeding Cool News, Marvel Vice President Gabriel Hardman stated: ‘What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales.’

If you’re wanting to listen to a Jazz player, look no further! Open a google tab, or go into a vinyl shop, and browse for Miles Davis. As Film and Media’s Martin Hall explained, Davis’ music was featured on the film Ascenseur pour l’Echafaud and Bregman notes that he “gives the effect of being a narrator” through his music. And if you’re looking for a new techno group, Literature’s Fraser Mann recommends The Belleville Three: Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, three Detroit-based musicians mixing art and culture.

Another influential figured, discussed by Literature’s Sarah Lawson Welsh, was C.L.R James; a literary and cultural activist, journalist, and Marxist. James was an incredible influence in the twentieth century, helping to build a healthy and meaningful between the Caribbean and the West. George Lamming notes James to be the “most interesting mind in three centuries of learning” which can be seen in his great contributions to West Indian Literature.

The talk made me think of hope in relation to the shifting state of global affairs in the wake of Trump’s election. After ninety minutes I left with a list of books, films, music and other documents that I wanted to immerse myself into.