This project aims to bring together archaeological scientists, writers and literary scholars to explore what it was like to be enslaved. Both scientists and humanities scholars have attempted to understand this experience: archaeologists examine the physical human skeletal remains of the enslaved, uncovering details about the birth place, health, well-being and traumatic injuries sustained by the slaves.

In contrast, writers combine existing historical information with their own imaginative impulses to represent individual experiences of slavery. While archaeologists' and writers' aims are similar, their methods are different. We aim to begin a dialogue between these groups, to explore how literary and archaeological narratives of slave lives might influence and inform one another to improve our understanding of what is was like to be a slave.

Aims of the project

1. Stimulate new ways of thinking about and researching the lived environment of slaves

We plan to hold a series of workshops between archaeological scientists and creative writers from the Bristol based collective Our Stories Make Waves. Questions we will ask each other include: What was it like to be a slave? How can the information provided by archaeological science inspire and inform new creative pieces? What is it that authors really want to know about the lives of slaves that archaeology has not yet addressed? Could literary representations of slavery provoke new questions in archaeological science? Through close collaboration between the writers and archaeological scientists we will identify gaps in our knowledge, and consider how they might be addressed through archaeological and literary methods combined.  

2. Explore the intersection between archaeological science and literary studies and to stimulate new models for collaboration

To what extent do literary authors engage with archaeological science? How do archaeologists use literature (consciously or otherwise) in their academic and popular writing? We will ask such questions not only with reference to the lived environment of the slave, but also explore them more widely through holding an academic conference. We will investigate the problems which arise when researchers from such different disciplines work together, and provide a forum to discuss how to overcome these problems. 

3. Promote public understanding of slavery and of how archaeologists and authors understand the past. 

We all know what it was like to be a slave... or do we? How is the public's understanding of the lives of slaves created? Through public events we will ask members of the public to think about how our knowledge of slavery is produced, and to consider the interplay between the arts and sciences. The events will include performances of original work produced by the creative writers as a result of their encounter with the archaeologists.

This project has the potential to change the way that both academics and the public think about the relationship between the arts and sciences. It also presents us with the opportunity to think in new ways about the lives of slaves, ways which involve emotion and imagination as well as scientific analysis.