Founders and Funders: Slavery and the building of a University

Students trace University’s and city’s legacies of transatlantic enslavement in ground-breaking Manchester exhibition

Opening at the John Rylands Research Institute and Library on 20 September 2023, the ’ ’ exhibition explores how profits from slave trading, ownership of enslaved people, and manufacturing with slave-grown cotton funded the cultural and educational development of Manchester.

The exhibition has been curated by a team of University of Manchester postgraduate students, academics and curators, with the support of external researchers. Core to the exhibition is research conducted by a diverse team of emerging scholars who undertook the Race, Migration & Humanitarianism: Legacies of Slavery and Colonialism in the Modern World module as part of their MA History. The Emerging Scholars programme provided students with paid opportunities to develop their historical research and curatorial skills with the aim of strengthening pipelines for underrepresented and Global Majority students to participate in academic and heritage work. Blog posts written by the team are available on the exhibition website.

" Founders and Funders represents the culmination of two years of research conducted by a team of postgraduate students from the University of Manchester’s History MA programme. The project began in one of our core modules - Race, Migration & Humanitarianism - in which students receive a grounding in the global history of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and colonisation before examining the multiple and complex legacies of these world historic phenomena in the present. Since 2021, all students in this module have participated in a series of special workshops to critically examine the legacies of slavery and colonialism in the places they live, study, and work - Manchester and The University of Manchester. In 2022, we launched the Emerging Scholars Programme and recruited six talented postgraduate researchers, including a plurality of Black and other Global Majority students, to lead on the next stage of the research and exhibition curation. At the heart of the project is an acknowledgment of the longstanding structural inequalities in the discipline of History which have created barriers to access and participation for Black and other Global Majority students (see, Royal Historical Society report). The Emerging Scholars Programme aims to address this ’broken’ pipeline ( Leading Routes , 2019) by providing paid research positions as well as structured mentorship and support from curators and historians based at the University of Manchester as well as the University of Liverpool’s Centre for the Study of International Slavery and UCL’s Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery. Recent graduates from the Emerging Scholars programme have gone on to work in the education and heritage sectors and we are looking forward to recruiting more postgraduate researchers to advance this research in the years to come."

Dr Kerry Pimblott, Lecturer in International History

"Working on the exhibition, Founders and Funders , as a student curator was a process of getting to grips with just how embedded enslavement, empire and colonisation were essential to the building of Manchester, ’Cottonopolis’. The social life, politics, intellectual culture, finances and kinship networks of Manchester’s 19th century residents were intertwined with exploitative colonial practices. This included direct investment in slave voyages or through industry, such as cotton production which was directly linked to Transatlantic enslavement and the labour of enslaved people.

The exhibition does not simply seek to present It prompts its visitors to begin to understand and acknowledge how embedded enslavement was to these people’s lives and their social and financial patronage of Manchester’s culture and institutions."

Jeevan Kaur Sanghera, MA History graduate and student curator

The exhibition invites visitors to examine these rediscovered histories and help us answer the emerging question for the city of Manchester and the University: "What should we do next?"

Founders and Funders runs 20 September 2023 - 23 March 2024. Open Wednesday-Saturday, 10am-5pm. Free entry.