Monthly Archives: July 2015

Giving it a name

The historian Matt Houlbrook has written recently about the intellectual and emotional significance of the titles we bestow on book projects. The titles authors select are not always, as Stuart Elden has reminded us, necessarily those which publishers deem suitable. Questions of marketing, audience, and discoverability inevitably come into play when deciding on the final title of a published book. Such issues notwithstanding, I took advantage of a rainy day in the office today to decide on a working title for the book which will, I hope, emerge in due course from this research project.

For a long time, I had toyed with the title Readers of revolution, since a significant portion of the book will focus on the diverse readings and influences of Macintosh’s book. Ultimately, however, I have settled for The forgotten radical: William Macintosh and the transnational circulation of seditious print in the Age of Revolution. Whilst it is unlikely that title will ever grace a book cover in precisely this form, it feels useful to have given a name to the thing that has been taking shape in my mind slowly over the last three-or-so years.

Macintosh, slave owner

Extract from Macintosh's "state of affairs". 18 December 1775. Archives départementales de Vaucluse, 2 E Titres de famille 84, “Charles Wilson / et autres de Grenade / 1767–1776".

Extract from Macintosh’s “state of affairs”. 18 December 1775. Archives départementales de Vaucluse, 2 E Titres de famille 84, “Charles Wilson / et autres de Grenade / 1767–1776″.

Last night BBC Two screened the first part of “Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners“—a superb documentary examining the stories of slave ownership revealed by the recent Legacies of British Slave-ownership project.

Macintosh was, of course, long dead by the time the Slave Compensation Commission was established to reimburse slave holders following the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act. Given, moreover, that Macintosh left the Caribbean in a state of financial precarity (if not outright bankruptcy), there was no “legacy” of enslaved people for him to leave and thus his descendants do not feature in the Legacies of British Slave-ownership database. Many of those with whom Macintosh did business and co-owned plantations are present, however, and include James Laing and William Pulteney.

Macintosh’s papers bear witness, however, to his role as a slave owner (and certainly not a benevolent one). There is evidence to suggest that on more than one occasion he branded runaway slaves on their recapture. Whilst it will take further work to fully determine the extent of Macintosh’s holdings, there is evidence that by the end of 1775 he owned 50 enslaved people. These he described as “not attached to any plantation, being tradesmen, sailors, & domestics”. He reckoned their value at £3,000 (ten times his annual salary as Comptroller of His Majesty’s Customs).

Macintosh’s status as a slave owner was not unusual in this period, but it does sit somewhat uneasily alongside his later promotion of egalitarianism and individual rights in the context of British India. Whether he experienced a Damascene conversion, or for reasons of pragmatism simply believed a different means of colonial management were required there, is not yet clear. Further digging is, as ever, required.

Macintosh at the ICHG

On the stage at the ICHG. Photograph courtesy of Julian Baker.

On the stage at the ICHG. Photograph courtesy of Julian Baker.

Last week I was fortunate to participate—along with c. 700 others—in the 16th International Conference of Historical Geographers. It was a wonderful event and a model of organisation, scholarship, and collegiality. On the last day of the conference (somewhat jaded by a week of early mornings and late nights) I presented in a session convened by David Lambert and Peter Merriman: “Mobility and empire“.

My paper, “William Macintosh’s Travels: colonial mobility and the circulation of knowledge”, was a version of a book chapter written in early 2012 which has, since then, been inching its way through the production process and should emerge in 2016 in a forthcoming volume of the Springer “Knowledge and Space” series. Having sat dormant for so long, it was good to dust the paper off and introduce some of my Macintosh work to colleagues. A number of useful questions, not least concerning Macintosh’s apparent transition from slave owner to advocate of individual rights, have given me much to think about.

In addition to the other excellent papers in the session, particular highlights during the conference were provided by the three plenary speakers: Catherine Hall, Bill Cronon, and Simon Schaffer.