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Are we right to commemorate the life of a slave trader?

This monument was erected in Bristol in 1895 to commemorate the life of Edward Colston. Edward Colston took a very active part in the financing and planning of the African slave trade in the 17th century. He was also a benefactor of a number of Bristol charities. His legacy is very visible in Bristol today, it includes buildings, street names and several memorials.

Edward Colston Monument, Bristol, taken c1895-1900
Edward Colston Monument, Bristol, taken c1895-1900 © Reproduced by permission of Historic England Archive

Teaching idea

Activity One

  • Look at the Portcities website to find out  about Sir Edward Colston, Bristol and its links with the slave trade. (See below for more useful websites)
  • Split the class into groups. Each group has to research one aspect of his life. A spokesperson for each group then outlines what they have found
  • Fill in the worksheet (above). Discuss which aspects of his life should be given the greatest significance
  • Hold a debate on the subject 'The Colston memorial should be removed'. Remind pupils that there could be reasons not connected directly to his life that have to be raised
  • What other debates are currently being held in Bristol relating to its past connections to the slave trade? Use the BBC website for research

Activity Two

  • One of the ways that English Heritage commemorates the legacy of prominent people is to create blue plaques to attach to buildings connected with their lives. This scheme operates in London but many other places have similar schemes
  • Visit the English Heritage web site to read about the criteria for deciding if a Blue Plaque should be created - do this as teacher led activity as the language level is difficult
  • Ask some pupils to write a proposal suggesting that a plaque should be created for Edward Colston and why. They should choose a building for it to be attached to and suggest suitable text to go on the plaque. They could follow the guidance on the website
  • Ask some pupils to write a short presentation that they would give at a public meeting opposing the creation of a blue plaque for him
  • Ask if the 2 groups have used the same facts in the 2 pieces of writing. Discuss with them what this tells you about how the history of a person's life can be written

Learning aims and outcomes

  • To promote the use of images, objects and archive items for historical enquiry and to aid historical interpretation 
  • To support the teaching of History and Citizenship at KS3&4 
  • To investigates aspects of local history and how they relate to a broader historical concept
  • To use ICT to research information about the past, to process historical data and to select, categorise, organise and present information
  •  To understand the diverse experiences and the range of ideas, beliefs and attitudes of men, women and children in past societies and how these have shaped the world
  • To select, organise and deploy relevant information when producing texts, making appropriate use of dates and terms

Prior knowledge

It will be helpful if students have prior knowledge of:

  • the triangular trade
  • the history of the Slave Trade in Britain (see Slavery related websites below)

Extended learning and useful links

  • Research using local sources and websites to find prominent people in your own locality
  • Use the Image by Theme: Slavery collection to find more images
  • Identify any controversies and adapt the activities to suit

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