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Review of Week 6

Watch Dr Miranda Kaufmann and Professor David Olusoga discuss Black Tudors and Stuarts in the wider sweep of Black British History
So congratulations on reaching the end of the course. I hope you’ve really enjoyed, and found stimulating, exploring the lives of Africans in Tudor and early Stuart England and all the implications and debates of their experience. And we’ve met these Africans in England through, of course, documentary evidence, but also through literary evidence. In the last video, we discussed the the tensions and the challenges of using those two sources at the same time. Yes. So that’s one of the debates we looked at this week. I mean, what do you think about it, David? Well, I think when we think of the Tudor period, I think we think fundamentally of three figures, we think of Henry the Eighth, Elizabeth the First and Shakespeare.
I think we think of historical figures, but also of literary figures. It’s not possible, I think, to wander into those those remarkable decades without thinking about Shakespeare. And Shakespeare is one of those places where we encounter black people who are of the imagination rather than the archives. So of all periods in history, I can’t think of one where it is more complicated if one would choose to avoid literature, it is just omnipresent. Yeah, and I think it’s a challenge, but exciting as well, I don’t think that the answers to these questions have been found yet.
And I think there is a younger generation of scholars who are beginning to look at that now that this archival material has been unearthed by myself, but also by leading scholars like Imtiaz Habib and Onyeka Nubia, you know, there are new generation of scholars who are interested in the literature and the archive and are asking those questions of trying to marry those up. What does it what does it all mean? I think one of the things which I find most interesting about your work and the other scholars that you’ve mentioned is that to to arrive at that place of analysis, you have to enter the 16th century without the baggage of racial ideas from the 18th and 19th century.
You have to unlearn the perspective through which we view the world. And that’s really quite challenging, isn’t it? I think that is actually one of the most important things to think about when we’re looking at this history, of trying to draw that curtain back and say, look, looking at a period before the English have established their colonies, before slaved labour becomes the dominant labour force in those places. It’s hard because we let the world we live in now, it’s still so formed and shaped by the legacies of enslavement and racism. And we’re still grappling with those issues, today more than ever.
But I think in order to understand those issues today, we need to take a historical view and go back and look at the period before those things emerged or as they were emerging in order to try and understand how racial enslavement happened so that we can work together in an anti-racist fashion now. And the other half of that coupling of racial and enslavement, the ideas of, the ideas of race and what human blackness, what it means, what the significance is, those ideas are swirling around and developing, particularly in the literary sources. To understand that again requires not approaching them with the mindset of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
In this course, we’ve also talked about creative responses to the silences, to the gaps in the archives. What’s your feeling about their significance and their importance? I think there so important because I think when we think about people in the past you know, we have to make an emotional connection with them. We have to try and understand what life was like for them. I mean look at Tudor history, when we look at kings and queens and people of noble birth, we’ve got their letters, we’ve got lots of other sources about them, like the Spanish ambassador’s thoughts about people at court or something like that.
But for these Africans we’re studying, the Africans in the course, w e don’t have anything written by them, but they were human beings, we’re human beings, we have to make that creative, imaginative leap in order to make sense of their lives. It’s exciting to see artists and writers doing that right now. And we’ve just showcased some of those works of art in this week of the course. Black Tudors have been brought to public attention by yourself and other scholars, but they do fit into a wider, broader story. How do you see the place of this new pantheon of Black Tudors, that we now got to know, in that bigger story?
I think it’s important to remember that although we focussed on the lives of ten individuals in the course, their just a fraction of over 200 individuals that we know were living in the Tudor period. And those are just the ones we found in the archives so far, but there may be more. The archives have not been exhaustively searched yet. Black British history is still an emerging field, and I think if you look at the history of Black British history, the earliest historians to look at Black British history were starting from scratch . And Peter Fryer, I think, is a key figure there.
But he was, like yourself actually, trying to do a broad sweep starting before the Romans and taking it through to what was his present day in the 1980s. And inevitably, you don’t get into a lot of depth there with any period. But also, even by that point, a lot more was known about some of the kind of almost “celebrity” Black British figures in the 18th century, like Ignatius Sancho, Olaudah Equiano, Dido Elizabeth Belle. And so they formed more of a focus, and then, of course, the closer we got to the present day, the more evidence there is and the more was written about it.
So I think that it’s actually only this century that the archival work in the Tudor period has been done. There’s more to be found. But also scholars haven’t had that long to kind of mulcher over and try and think about what what it all really means. This is history that’s being made in the present. This is an area of history where there’s new things to be discovered, new interpretations to be made. It’s only really the second or third generation of historians looking into this. I’m very pleased that you said earlier that this is a history that can be achieved locally, that can be exhumed locally, because, of course, that’s very much how it began.
This is a, Black British history was pieced together with local discoveries. James Walvin in the scholar that you mentioned earlier, when he wrote his PHD back in the 1960s, literally wrote to county archivists asking them if they knew of a Black black presence in their archives. So this is, in some ways, a local history that’s been stitched together into a national history. Absolutely. And other people followed that example. Marika Sherwood and the Black and Asian Studies Association did something similar and some of the records they’d already drawn together for the Tudor period was foundational to my own research and that of others as well.
There is a DIY element, a sort of slightly punk ethos to Black British history that’s been done often by academics who have not been working in universities. It’s been done by local historians, it’s been done by amateur historians. It is in some ways quite an accessible form of history. Yeah. And I also hope that some of the people doing this course are teachers. And I know that although there are still massive debates about Black British histories coverage on the national curriculum, the curriculum does have a requirement for a local history study. So if you’re a teacher and you want to bring these stories into the classroom again, the local route is the way to go.
What do you think learners will take away from this course? Well, I’m excited that hopefully we’ve recruited some more historians, some more people to look into these sources. I mean, earlier in the course we encouraged learners to bother their local archivist. You know, if you’re in the UK, go to your local archives, find out what’s going on there. But even if you’re not, increasingly some of these sources have been digitised. You can look at those sources online and there are various kind of crowdsourcing and transcription projects, so I am trying to recruit people to find more.
I hope that during the course, learners will have journeyed to the coalface of history and seen the inner workings of how we deal with these primary sources and how we interpret them. And so understand a bit more about the historian’s craft, but also really engage with the different perspectives of different historians that we’ve tried to reference as we go through the course and engage with those debates based on evidence that they’re able to explore themselves. I think having done this in-depth study of the Black Tudors and some early Stuarts, I think it will give learners a different perspective on Black British history and Black global history as a whole, which maybe goes back further than they thought it did.
I think I think with Black history and looking at those early Black presences, we have to accept that there’s always going to be things we can’t know. So, Miranda, thank you very much. And it is exciting to think the Black British history is a world where there’s new discoveries to be made. And it is a form of history that has always involved amateur historians and people doing it themselves. So hopefully people who’ve done this course are learners will adopt that ethos and go and generate some Black history. Yeah, I really hope so, too. Thank you so much for joining me on the course, David. Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

To wrap up the course this week, we’ve asked a number of big questions raised by the stories of the Black Tudors and Stuarts we’ve investigated over the last six weeks, and looked at how their experiences throw light on some related topics and wider debates.

In this concluding video Dr Miranda Kaufmann and Professor David Olusoga review the debates we’ve examined this week and the significance of the Black Tudors and early Stuarts in the wider context of Black History.

Throughout the course, we’ve explored the lives of Black men and women living in England in the 16th and early 17th centuries. We’ve examined the original documents to find out how and why they came to England, how they were treated by the legal and religious authorities, what sort of work they did and how they lived, loved and died. We’ve engaged with debates about to what extent they lived freely.

This week we’ve also asked if they encountered individual or institutional racism in their daily lives. We’ve looked to Shakespeare and the literature of the period, and asked if contemporary fiction and art can play a role in bringing history alive.

As we considered what happened next in the seventeenth century, this week we’ve examined the establishment of English colonies, the growth of the English trade in enslaved Africans and the emergence of racial enslavement especially in Barbados and Virginia. We’ve considered how this impacted on Africans living in England after the Tudor and early Stuart period.

As a focus for some of the themes of the week we’ve introduced the story of John Anthony, a free waged African mariner from Dover. His voyage to Virginia in the Silver Falcon in 1619 occurred in the same historic year that the first enslaved Africans arrived at Jamestown.

Although in the end his ship turned back, his story highlights the contrasts between free Africans in Tudor and early Stuart England, and the enslavement emerging in the 17th century colonies.

As Miranda Kaufmann argued in her doctoral thesis which formed the basis for her book Black Tudors: The Untold Story.

“This previously undiscovered history of the experience of Africans in Britain in the century before the English became fully involved in the world of colonies and slave trading provokes larger questions. The encounter between White and Black was not as sudden as has been previously thought.

And if this encounter, which took place on English and Scottish, rather than just on African soil, did not immediately lead to racism and subjugation, then what was it about the circumstances in the colonies that caused that terrible outcome? “

Review and Reflect

As you’ve worked through the course and explored the stories of the ten Black men and women, you’ve also been introduced to the original historical evidence and developed your skills in historical methods.

You’ve explored images of many of the manuscript primary sources and evaluated transcripts from parish records, household records and court records.

As we’ve seen, these records have raised the question of some of the challenges of reclaiming Black history from archives written by White men.

One of the learning objectives introduced at the beginning of the Black Tudors course was:

  • Question preconceptions in narratives of the past, informed by historical evidence in Black History

We very much hope that the course has allowed you to find out more about the lives and experiences of Black Tudors, and to start to ask your own informed questions based on the historical evidence.


  • What part of Week 6 did you find most interesting or insightful and why?
  • Which of the records and primary sources in the course as a whole have most interested you? How has your awareness of historical records and skills in historical methods developed since starting the course?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Black Tudors: The Untold Story

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