Bringing Scholarly Perspectives to the Public Forum

“We are a public, urban, research institution in a major city and part of our reason for existence is to interface with the public,” said Laura Hostetler, chair of the Department of History. “Interested people need to know that they are welcome at UIC at all kinds of events we sponsor.”

The connection between the history department and the public was strengthened this past fall when the department launched its History Mysteries lectures, targeted to individuals intrigued by how historical events and controversies often resonate with current events.

“Public programs like this help reveal how relevant history is in our current context,” Hostetler said. “When you study history and develop the skills of analytical inquiry, you are also making that connection between the local and the global, the specific and the general, and developing a broader perspective. We can then think about posing questions that are more meaningful and that can help us think more creatively about our present situation.”

Sierra Leone Company advertisement, 1791.

Sierra Leone Company advertisement, 1791. [Sleo.0001.0001.0006.0001]

This fall, the history department will team with the UIC Daley Library Special Collections Department, the Departments of African American Studies, English and Political Science, the Institute for the Humanities, and the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost to present a national symposium and exhibit on the Atlantic slave trade and its aftermath in the modern world.

“This is the third symposium of national and international scholars that the political science department has sponsored or cosponsored in the last five years. It follows a symposium on Development and Democracy in Africa and an earlier conference on competing theory for studying 21st-century global cities, including Chicago,” said Dick Simpson, head of the political science department. “UIC has an utterly unique collection of documents in the world on Sierra Leone, the slave trade and the Caribbean which we would like to share with scholars and citizens.”

Slavery and Its Aftermath in the Atlantic World will take place on the UIC campus October 5-6, 2012. Panel discussions will include “Abolition, Freetown and Empire,” organized by James Searing; “The Black Atlantic in the Age of Revolution,” organized by Corey Capers; “Caribbean and Black Atlantic Thought,” organized by Sunil Agnani; and “Slavery in the British Colonies: The Colonial Legacy and Future of Sierra Leone,” organized by Simpson. There will also be two keynote addresses. Amos Sawyer, former President of Liberia, has been invited to present on “Slavery, the Repatriation of Slaves, and the Current Struggles in West Africa.”

…slavery has had a profound impact on all our lives in ways that we often don't fully appreciate. The exhibit and symposium are meant to bring that message to as broad a public, and to as many students, as possible. —Dick Simpson

“The panel which I will chair will seek to understand Sierra Leone’s more-than-200 years of history and its implications for that African country today. But slavery has had a profound impact on all our lives in ways that we often don't fully appreciate. The exhibit and symposium are meant to bring that message to as broad a public, and to as many students, as possible. One outcome will be a book on the symposium which will summarize much of the scholarship for all readers,” said Simpson.

The exhibit, Slavery and the Making of the Modern World, is curated by Nancy Cirillo, professor emerita in the English department and co-curated by Tim Soriano, graduate student in history. Located in the UIC Library, it will run from October 5, 2012 until May, 2013.

Slave ship diagram (crop) by S. Cread & J. Hawksworth, 1822. [Sleo.0004.s109.0001.0001]

Slave ship diagram (crop) by S. Cread & J. Hawksworth, 1822. [Sleo.0004.s109.0001.0001]

Our library’s Special Collections Department holds three related collections focused on the Atlantic Slave Trade,” explained Cirillo. “The first is the Sierra Leone Collection, an archive of documents concerning the founding of Sierra Leone in 1787 as a refuge for escaped slaves from the United States and freed slaves from England. There are also two rare book collections: the Atlantic Slave Trade Collection of 18th- and 19th-century books focused on British, French and American slavery and the trade, and the H.D. Carberry Collection of Caribbean Studies, named in honor of the Jamaican collector from whom it was purchased. The Carberry is comprised of 20th-century literary and political work from the Anglophone Caribbean; since the modern Caribbean was created by slavery and the slave trade, this collection serves to round out the other two.”

"The exhibit narrative will represent through a variety of documents, books and graphics how far reachingpolitically, economically and sociallyslavery and the slave trade were for 300 years, as well as for the present, for the continents ringing the Atlantic," Cirillo continued. "the abolitionist response, starting in the late-18th century and well-represented in both the Sierra Leone and Atlantic Slave Trade collections, is an early example of the use of public space to create great change by a small group of dedicated people. The exhibit will end with a section called 'Aftermath,' focusing on the modern Caribbean and Sierra Leone."

Detail of letter signed by abolitionist William Wilberforce, 1808.

Detail of letter signed by abolitionist William Wilberforce, 1808. [Sleo.0004.s103.0009.0004]

Visitors will be able to view items from all three collections, including letters penned by some of the most important figures in Britain’s abolitionist movement including Thomas Clarkson, Olaudah Equiano, Granville Sharp and William Wilberforce. Also included are plans of Freetown, slave ship drawings, and documents from the abolitionist-founded Sierra Leone Company, which sponsored the resettlement to Sierra Leone and the establishment of the British colony of Freetown.

The exhibition and the symposium are being presented free of charge, with philanthropic support greatly appreciated. To make a donation for the symposium please contact Linda Vavra at the Institute for the Humanities 312-996-6352 or To contribute toward the costs of the exhibition contact Katy Frey at the UIC Library 312-355-0824 or

All images from the Sierra Leone Collection, UIC Library, Special Collections. Used by permission.

History Mysteries 2012-13 is currently in development. Faculty experts frame each historic inquiry as a “whodunit,” with audience members invited to help solve the mystery. Contact for information.