Position PhD Candidate
Institution University of Hull
Discipline History, Heritage
Affiliations Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and EmancipationAntislavery Early Research Association (Executive Committee)
Twitter @RebeccaANelson4
Other links LinkedIn
Contact r.nelson@2015.hull.ac.uk

Personal Bio

3-4Rebecca is a third year PhD student at the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation. Her research is part of the AHRC-funded Antislavery Usable Past project. This is a collaborative project which sees academics from the Universities of Hull and Nottingham working across a range of disciplines to develop an understanding of the antislavery past in order to contextualise and support antislavery work in the present. Rebecca’s PhD examines the way in which museums across the UK engage with antislavery as both a historic and a contemporary issue, using their collections and other resources, such as public programming and digital media.

Prior to undertaking her PhD in 2015, Rebecca studied History at the University of York, graduating with a First Class BA Honours Degree. She then went on to complete an MA in Museum Studies, with distinction, at Newcastle University. It was during this time she developed a research interest in British imperial history and the way in which museums address challenging histories.

Rebecca also works within the museums and heritage sector. Most recently she has taken up a role as a Programmes Developer for Heritage Learning in Hull. In this position she researches, writes and develops learning programmes across Hull’s museum sites. She has previously also held positions with the National Trust, Beamish Open Air Museum, the Royal Collection Trust and York Museums Trust.

Research Profile

Legacies on Display: Antislavery in British Museums

Rebecca Banner ImageRebecca’s research investigates how museums across the UK engage with antislavery, both as an historic and a contemporary issue. This is a well-timed study; a decade on from 2007 when there was a plethora of museum exhibitions and events created to commemorate the bicentenary of the abolition of the British slave trade, now is a good time to reflect on those efforts and the extent to which museum practice has developed since then. A huge range of scholarship was produced during 2007 and in its immediate aftermath, on museums and the representation of both slavery and antislavery, focusing on themes of commemoration, memorialisation and challenging histories. This PhD seeks to contribute to those discussions by bringing them up to the present day, after a significant decline in interest.

It is also contributing to wider discussions about the role of the museum in the twenty-first century society. Taking inspiration from ideas of new museology, conclusions will be drawn as to how museums can best present antislavery in line with the most current museum practice. Rebecca is utilising a mixed method approach to understand the decision-making process involved in qualifying antislavery as a history deserving of interpretation, the methods by which it has been interpreted and the challenges faced in doing such work. Going forward, this thesis will provide a guide for museum professionals on best practices associated with interpreting antislavery, as well as illustrate to academics in both history and museology the kind of support required by museum professionals when working with this history.


Legacies on Display: Slavery in Museums

[Forthcoming- due to be launched on the Antislavery Usable Past website in September 2018]

The aim of the ‘Legacies on Display’ project is to map museums across the world that interpret histories of slavery and antislavery, as well as any that exhibit narratives of contemporary forms of slavery, on a permanent basis. Thus creating a useful, practical tool for researchers interested in heritage, museums and the representation of slavery in public spheres, through material collections.


A Kidd and R Nelson, ‘Approaching contemporary slavery through an historic lens: an interdisciplinary perspective’ [2019] Journal of Modern Slavery (forthcoming).

R Nelson, ‘Material Culture in the Antislavery Campaign’ in Kevin Bales (ed), The Using History Handbook (California University Press) (forthcoming).