The silence of the British Empire in present-day bristol: imperial silences of circumscription
(University of Edinburgh)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the ‘silence of Empire’ in Bristol, once a hub for imperial commerce and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Despite local debates and public controversies about the slave trade and history commemoration in Bristol, the city’s narrative is poignantly silent about the British Empire.
Paper long abstract:
Among the present day silences in Europe, one of the most salient is the silence of Empire. It is not as though European Empires are completely forgotten, nor that they are openly celebrated; perhaps what is most noticeable is the ways in which colonial histories are often talked around and never directly addressed in a host of political and heritage discourses, such as the way in which Bristol's maritime history is presented in many heritage projects. Following Stoler's exploration of colonial aphasia in French historical and political discourse (2011), this paper is based on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Bristol, England with a key focus on the construction and negotiation of memory and heritage and particular attention placed on how the British Empire has been presented, understood, and 'talked about,' if at all. There seems to be a silence around an Empire which was once vital to Bristol's wealth, prestige, and commercial interests. Indeed, there is an abundance of disconnections and ways of 'talking around' the Empire while still discussing some of Bristol's more public historical controversies—especially concerning the Transatlantic Slave Trade. This paper aims to not only address the importance of 'imperial silences' locally in the context of Bristol, but beyond to the UK and Europe. It furthermore aims to explore these 'silences of circumscription' and the ways in which integrally constitutive yet problematic pasts result in peculiar kinds of silence in which they may be talked around, excluded, and disconnected within local and national narratives.
Europe and its silences