Presented by Dr Michael Morris, a lecturer in English Literature and Cultural History at Liverpool John Moores University, who has published widely on Scottish connections with slavery, the latest seminar in the Eighteenth Century Worlds Seminar Series will be a paper on Scotland and the Caribbean: New Lanark, Robert Owen and Slave Cotton.
This paper interprets New Lanark as a node in a global history of cotton, arguing that textiles, but cotton in particular, represents a potent way to re-think Scotland’s ‘Age of Improvement’ with specific attention to the ‘Problem of Slavery’. The first section of the paper considers the model mill village and icon of improvement New Lanark at the cross-section of two currents of thought. Firstly, the resurgence of interest in cotton as a centrepiece of global history; and secondly the current recovery of the memory of slavery in Scotland more specifically- at New Lanark it identifies the global in the local. The second section re-evaluates the ideology of ‘gradual improvement’ espoused by New Lanark’s key owners: David Dale in the context of the abolition movement of the early 1790s, and Robert Owen in the context of the movement for emancipation in the late 1820s. It explores Owen’s uneasy and uneven negotiation of slavery in the United States as well as his visit to Haiti and Jamaica in 1829. Finally, it will contrast such accounts of mill owners with the lower class millworker Charles Campbell who worked on Jamaica as an overseer and recorded his own observations of the slave society there. The cotton connections allow us to write slavery into the deeply entangled, intertwined, even interwoven, cultures of improvement in the Atlantic world.