Historian David Olusoga looks at the lives of black people in Britain in 1600s and 1700s. He looks at portraits in Ham House in Surrey, which feature images of young black men and women as part of family groups of aristocrats. Olusoga talks to Historian Professor James Walvin who suggests that often these figures were invented and were part of the exoticism associated with international trade and enslavement. Walvin describes black people in the UK as the ‘flotsam and jetsam’ of the slave trade, individuals who found themselves in the UK. Most were in domestic service. Some were sailors in transit in and out of the ports. By the late 18th century the ideas of the French Revolution were spreading and some black people were starting to have a political impact on British society. These included Robert Wedderburn who argued passionately for the emancipation of black slaves and poor whites.
Students could compare paintings showing African and Indian servants and discuss the relationships with their employers. These could be compared with other representations of urban life showing black people living ordinary lives as a part of wider society. At the end of the film David Olusoga stresses that black people could live independent lives. Slavery did not exist legally in Britain but were most treated as slaves or, as recent research suggests, did most black people live alongside white people with similar freedoms, depending on their status? The section on Wedderburn could lead students to research other working class activists such as William Davidson and William Cuffay, or abolitionists such as Olaudah Equiano and Ottobah Cugoano..They could also find out what is known of the18th century black presence in their local area, a good starting point being their local museum or archive.