The Dictionary of British Slave Traders will detail the 6,500 members of society who took part in the trade throughout a period stretching more then two centuries.
William Pettigrew, professor of history at Lancaster University, who is leading the project, told CNN: “We’re looking at the entire population of investors in the slave trade — not just independent investors, but also the corporations that were involved.”
The index will highlight the involvement of some high-profile investors, including the man widely considered Britain’s first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole.
Set to be published in print and online around 2024, the project received £1 million in funding from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council.
It will show how deeply the slave trade permeated British society, Pettigrew said. “It’s not just this narrative of very, very wealthy merchants becoming extremely wealthy out of this horrific trade — it’s about the social breadth of investment,” he said, highlighting “the extent to which ordinary shopkeepers invested large proportions of their capital in slave trading voyages.”
Britain enslaved 3.1 million Africans between 1640 and 1807, transporting them to colonies around the world, according to Historic England, a public body.
Many of these people were taken to the Caribbean to work on sugar plantations, which made their owners very wealthy through the export of sugar, molasses and rum, according to the National Archives.
In 2020, as Black Lives Matter protests swept world, the country’s celebration of some of those involved in the trade — and the relative lack of teaching about the topic in British schools — came under more intense scrutiny.
“Public appetite and hunger for high-quality data that underpins these public debates has grown greater and greater” in recent months, Pettigrew said.