Black Lives Matter: Starting Points for the Victorianist

This blog post initially appeared in the BAVS newsletter.

In a review essay eighteen years ago titled ‘Black British Studies in the Victorian Period’, Audrey Fisch asked how far the field of Victorian studies had addressed race. Fisch could at that time point to new scholarship that sought to understand and interrogate attitudes towards Black people in the Victorian period. Yet Fisch avowed some scepticism as to the impact of this work upon the field more generally. ‘I remain pessimistic’, she wrote, ‘about how well established Black British Victorian studies is and how thoroughly this work is permeating the overall field of Victorian studies’.[1]

Examining the field eighteen years later and following the recent killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK and USA, we can point to a significant body of scholarship on race in the nineteenth century. One important line of enquiry has followed Edward Said’s landmark reading of Mansfield Park by examining how the period’s economic, cultural and social productions were made possible by wealth drawn from the enslavement of people of colour.[2]  And new books from Priyamvada Gopal (Insurgent Empire, 2019) and Olivette Otele (African Europeans, 2020) mark an important shift in focus away from those who upheld racist ideology and towards those colonial subjects and enslaved peoples who challenged the hold of empire. This work will inform how Victorianists teach, research and otherwise grapple with a period that elicits critique and celebration in equal measure — a period which, despite its flourishing written and visual culture, erected a statue of Bristol’s most notorious slave owner over 170 years after his death. This work also prompts difficult questions about Victorian studies in the present. Has this field reckoned with the possibility that it inadvertently reproduces the racial disparities of its period of study? As the recent North American Victorian Studies Association (NAVSA) Graduate Students’ Antiracist Statement points out, we work in a field in which ‘white scholars vastly outnumber scholars of colour, and particularly Black scholars’ – an imbalance that is even more marked in British universities.[3]

This summer the BAVS Executive Board will propose a series of measures to collectively think through and address the problem of racism as it affects the field of Victorian studies. This builds on work from summer 2019 to produce and implement a BAVS Diversity and Equality Statement. This newsletter will support and contribute to this collective effort. As part of a new feature on the latest scholarship in Victorian studies, we commit to showcasing research that addresses race, particularly by scholars of colour. And we encourage requests to review books in these areas. Further, we offer here a brief but hopefully useful list of resources addressing Victorian race from the last twenty years, aiming to provide Victorianists at all career stages with some ideas and directions for integrating race and anti-racism into their teaching and research in the future, as well as serving as starting points for those introducing themselves to the period. Although it features work by scholars of colour, this list, like the authorship of this editorial, is inevitably affected by the racial imbalance in Victorian studies outlined above. And because these are meant as starting points for further discussion and reflection, it comes accompanied with a call to our readers and members to contribute their own suggestions. Both the up-to-date list and a submission form for further entries are available on the BAVS website ( Finally, we repeat the call by the Postgraduate Representatives Danielle Dove and Heather Hind to contribute to the BAVS Victorianist Blog with pieces that address race, colonialism, imperialism, police and state violence and related themes in any Victorian studies context. Taken together, we hope that these steps will further the work to address the historic and continuing injustices that the Black Lives Matter movement has brought into view.

Jonathan Godshaw Memel (Bishop Grosseteste University), Fariha Shaikh (University of Birmingham) and Joanna E. Taylor (University of Manchester)[4]

[1] Audrey Fisch, ‘Black British Studies in the Victorian Period,’ Victorian Literature and Culture 30.1, pp. 353-364, p. 353, p. 354.

[2] Edward Said, ‘Jane Austen and Empire’, in Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage, 1993), pp. 80-96.

[3] Sarah Ross, Lindsey E. R. O’Neil, Austin Lim and Oishani Sengupta, ‘NAVSA Grads Anti-Racism Statement’, Accessed 22 June 2020.

[4] We would like to thank Angelique Richardson, Paul Young, Heather Hind, Claudia Capancioni, Kate Nichols and the BAVS Executive Committee in general for their contributions to this editorial and accompanying list of resources.

Starting Points


Whilst these items cover various periods, each draws valuable connections between the Victorians and the present time. Only resources from the last twenty years are included on this list, but a helpful source for earlier, foundational work encompassing various disciplines is Ankhi Mukherjee’s entry on race in the Victorian Literature section of Oxford Bibliographies (also listed below).

These starting points are not intended to be exhaustive or set in stone, and we welcome members to suggest additions and updates here.



Gary Girod and Robin Mitchell, ‘Black Venus: African Women in Nineteenth Century France’, French History Podcast (2020),

Reni Eddo Lodge, About Race (2018),

Eddie Glaude and Autumn Womack, ‘The Pulse of Black Life in the Long Nineteenth Century’, Princeton University African American Studies (2017),



Adom Getachew and Christopher Taylor, ‘The Global Plantation: An Exchange’, B20 (2020),

‘Syllabus Bank’, V21 (2015-2020),

Includes sample teaching materials that address empire and race

 UCL Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership, Online Encyclopaedia of British Slave-ownership (2009-2020),

Adrian Wisnicki and Megan Ward (eds.), Livingstone Online: Illuminating Imperial Exploration (2017),

Adrian Wisnicki (ed.), One More Voice: Lost Voices from the British Empire’s Archives (2020),

Ankhi Mukherjee, ‘Race’, Oxford Bibliographies, Victorian Literature (2013), doi: 10.1093/OBO/9780199799558-0097)



David Olusoga, ‘Black British History You’re Not Taught in Schools’, BBC: Alt History (2020),

—, ‘Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners’, BBC Two (2015),

Draws on UCL database above

 ‘Hidden Histories’, Guardian (2014),



Olivette Otele, African Europeans: An Untold History (2020)

Priyamvada Gopal, Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent (2019)

Susheila Nasta and Mark U. Stein (eds.), The Cambridge History of Black and Asian British Writing (2019)

Akala, Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire (2019)

Reni Eddo Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (2018)

Afua Hirsch, Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging (2018)

Fariha Shaikh, Nineteenth-Century Settler Emigration in British Literature and Art (2018)

Shashi Tharoor, Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India (2017)

David Olusoga, Black and British: A Forgotten History (2017)

Toni Morrison, The Origin of Others (2017)

Saree Makdisi, Making England Western: Occidentalism, Race and Imperial Culture (2014)

C. L. Innes, A History of Black and Asian Writing in Britain (2013)

Laura Peters, Dickens and Race (2013)

Madge Dresser and Andrew Hann (eds.), Slavery and the British Country House (2013)

Open access:

 Caroline Bressey, Empire, Race and the Politics of Anti-Caste (2013)

Damon Salesa, Racial Crossings: Race, Intermarriage and the Victorian British Empire (2012)

Sadiah Qureshi, People on Parade: Exhibitions, Empire and Anthropology in Nineteenth-Century Britain (2011)

Patrick Brantlinger, Taming Cannibals: Race and the Victorians (2011)

Edward Beasley, The Victorian Reinvention of Race: New Racisms and the Problem of Grouping in the Human Sciences (2010)

Robert J. C. Young, The Idea of English Ethnicity (2007)

Elaine Freedgood, The Ideas in Things: Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel (2006)

Jan Marsh (ed.), Black Victorians: Black People in British Art, 1800-1900 (2005)

 Gretchen Gerzina, Black Victorians, Black Victoriana (2003)

Angelique Richardson, Love and Eugenics in the Late Nineteenth Century: Rational Reproduction and the New Woman (2003)

Catherine Hall, Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830-1867 (2002)

Audrey Fisch, American Slaves in Victorian England (2000)

Marcus Wood, Blind Memory: Visual Representations of Slavery in England and America 1780-1865 (2000)



Earnestine Jenkins, ‘Elite Colored Women: The Material Culture of Photography and Victorian era Womanhood in Reconstruction era Memphis’, Slavery and Abolition 41 (2020), pp. 29–63.

Decolonising Working Group, University of Exeter, ‘Who Wants Yesterday’s Statues?’, Imperial and Global Forum (2020),

Keisha N. Blain, ‘The Black Women Who Paved the Way for This Moment’, Atlantic (2020),

Olivette Otele, ‘These Anti-Racism Protests Show it’s Time for Britain to Grapple with its Difficult History’, Guardian (2020)

Carolyn Betensky, ‘Casual Racism in Victorian Literature’, Victorian Literature and Culture 47 (2019), pp. 723-751

Roger Ball, ‘Edward Colston and That Statue’, Bristol Radical History Group (2018),

Erica Kanesaka Kalnay, ‘Part-Victorian Imagination: On Being a Victorianist of Color’, V21 (2018),

There are many (if not enough) iterations of being a Victorianist of colour, and while some of the experiences described in this piece might be felt similarly across the board, people are of course differently positioned.

 Caitlin Beach, ‘John Bell’s American Slave in the Context of Production and Patronage’, Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide 15 (2016),

Caroline Bressey, ‘The City of Others: Photographs from the City of London Asylum Archive’, 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century (2011), doi:

Nick Draper, ‘Possessing Slaves: Ownership, Compensation and Metropolitan Society in Britain at the Time of Emancipation, 1834–1840’, History Workshop Journal 64 (2007): pp. 74–102.

Madge Dresser, ‘Set in Stone? Statues and Slavery in London’, History Workshop Journal 64 (2007), pp. 162-199.


Primary Texts    

Paul Edwards and David Dabydeen (eds.), Black Writers in Britain, 1760-1890 (1991)

Joan R. Sherman (ed.), Collected Black Women’s Poetry, 4 vols (1988)

Henrietta Cordelia Ray, Sonnets (1893) and Poems (1910)

John E. Ocansey, African Trading; or the Trials of William Narh Ocansey (1881)

Africanus Horton, Vindication of the African Race (1868)

Mary Seacole, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands (1857)

John Brown, Slave Life in Georgia (1855)

Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince (1831)

Robert Wedderburn, The Horrors of Slavery (1824)


This post has been re-published by permission from the BAVS Postgraduates Blog. Please see the original post at