John Oldfield MSP_6785

Professor John Oldfield

Director of the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation

01482 305181

John’s passion is in producing pioneering research into historic slavery, taking lessons learned from the past so we can imagine a future that is different and tackle the growing issue of modern day slavery.

John received the prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2015, in recognition of the institute’s world-leading research into slavery and emancipation issues.

Research is used to inform public practice and policy, at local, national and international levels. The Wilberforce Institute took a major role in shaping the UK’s Modern Slavery Act, which was passed by Parliament in March 2015.


Research Interests

  • Slavery and abolition in the Atlantic world (1750-1850)

  • The American South

  • African-American history, and slavery and memory

Research groups

  • Principal Investigator on the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) project, ‘Stolen Lives’, a multi-media educational resource aimed at raising awareness of slavery among 11 to 13-year-olds.

  • Co-investigator on a major £1.8m AHRC collaborative research project, the Anti-Slavery Usable Past, which aims to translate links between the past and present into effective tools for researchers, teachers, policy makers, anti-slavery activists and the general public.

  • As part of that project, John is supervising the creation of a digital archive, ‘Remembering 1807’, which will map the size and extent of the activities put on in 2007 to commemorate the bi-centenary of the abolition of the British slave trade.


  • Oldfield, John (2013) Transatlantic Abolitionism in the Age of Revolution: an International History of Anti-Slavery, 1787-1820, Cambridge, GB, Cambridge University Press, 288pp.

  • Kaplan, Cora and Oldfield, John (eds.) (2010) Imagining Transatlantic Slavery, Basingstoke, GB, Palgrave Macmillan, 288pp.

  • Oldfield, John (2007) Chords of Freedom: Commemoration, Ritual, and British Transatlantic Slavery, Manchester, UK, Manchester University Press, 203pp.

  • Oldfield, J. R. (ed.) (2003) The British Transatlantic Slave Trade, Vol. 3, The Abolitionist Struggle: Opponents of the Slave Trade, London, UK, Pickering & Chatto, 373pp.


Research PhDs

Slavery and abolition in the Atlantic world (1750-1850), the American South, American race relations.

Completed PhDs 

Lauren Darwin (Bell), Coerced Migration Systems in Comparative Perspective: An Analysis of the British Slave Trade and Convict Transportation, 1786 – 1813 (2017)

Emmanuel Saboro, Slavery, Memory and Orality: A Case Study of Nineteenth-Century Ghana (2015)

Current PhD supervisors

  • Historical Slavery in the Americas

  • The Abolition of Slavery and the Transition to Freedoms

  • Memories, Legacies and Representations of Slavery and Abolition

  • Modern Slavery, Human Rights and Social Justice

Professional highlights

Academic qualifications

BA, MA, PhD (Cambridge University)

External roles

Member of the editorial board of Slavery and Abolition

Member of the editorial board of Patterns of Prejudice

Awards and accolades

John received the prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2015, in recognition of the institute’s world-leading research into slavery and emancipation issues.

Other awards include
  • John Brockway Fellowship, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, 2011

  • Barra Foundation International Fellowship, Historical Society of Pennsylvania/Library Company of Philadelphia, 2009

  • Short-Term Fellowship, Lewis Walpole Library (Yale University) Farmington, Connecticut, 2008

  • Short-Term Research Fellowship, Gilder Lehrman Foundation, New York, 2005

  • Visiting Professor (American Council of Learned Societies), University of South Carolina (1993-94)

Professional highlights

Director of the Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies, University of Southampton (2009-2012)