Research Projects

Learning from the lessons of the past. Inspiring change in the present. Educating the policy-makers of the future.

Anti-Slavery – Usable Past

Anti-Slavery Usable Past is a £1.8-million research project that aims to draw on the successes and failures of earlier abolition movements to understand what lessons can be learned to tackle slavery today.

It will create a toolkit for policy-makers and societies around the world.

Projects include translating the legal definition of slavery into the five other languages of the United Nations, and educating courts around the world on the law.

The Wilberforce Institute will examine how war has facilitated the slave trades throughout history and how conflict continues to act as a catalyst to enslaving people. It will also look into how the public was mobilised to oppose slavery in the past and assess how this could inform change today.

Our work will also bring together stories of contemporary slavery in an archive, highlighting the painful realities of this global issue.

The Anti-Slavery Usable Past project is a five-year multidisciplinary investigation in collaboration with the University of Nottingham. It is is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.


Life-changing research receives royal honour

In 2015, the Wilberforce Institute was awarded the prestigious Queen's Anniversary Prize for its research into slavery - a problem that continues to blight the world.

‘Remembering 1807’ digital archive

As part of the Anti-Slavery Usable Past research project, the Wilberforce Institute is leading on the creation of the ‘Remembering 1807’ digital archive. This will house records of the events (funded by the Heritage Lottery) held across the UK in 2007 to commemorate the bi-centenary of the abolition of the slave trade.

The archive will act as a valuable resource for scholars and practitioners alike. It will allow us to assess the impact of these events, while at the same time informing debates about commemorative practices, heritage, and the relationship between history and memory.

Virtual Wilberforce

To mark the 210th anniversary of the passing of the Slave Trade Act - and to celebrate Hull’s legacy of freedom in its City of Culture year - experts from the Wilberforce Institute and the Glasgow School of Art have used the same 3D wizardry found in blockbuster Hollywood films to create Virtual Wilberforce - a CGI version of William Wilberforce himself.

Virtual Wilberforce features in a series of short animated videos, talking about his powerful life story and the fight for freedom. The words that the virtual version uses are Wilberforce's own, drawn from the many speeches he made during his career - dating right back to his first tirade against the African slave trade in the House of Commons in 1789. We hope that these lessons from the past will inspire positive change in the present.

Previous projects

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database

The Wilberforce Institute has transformed the evidential base for studying the transatlantic slave trade. Under the leadership of Professor David Richardson, it worked in collaboration with academics in America and New Zealand to establish a database of 35,000 transatlantic slave voyages. Published in 2008, the work became the basis for major publications such as the prize-winning Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Yale, 2010), which was hailed as one of the greatest historical achievements of its time. 


Stolen Lives

Stolen Lives is a collaborative, open-educational project, bringing together academics, musicians, artists and educationalists. It aims to raise awareness of modern-day slavery, human trafficking and trans-global child labour issues, thereby helping to inform today's (and tomorrow’s) anti-slavery campaigners by providing them with an engaging tool to help in the fight against modern slavery. You can read more here.


Hidden in plain sight campaign

A study released on Anti-Slavery Day (October 18) shows that less than one in ten people 'strongly believes' the true scale of slavery in the UK (8%). 'Human packaging' placed at key locations in Hull city centre for the University of Hull's #HiddenInPlainSight campaign