In this meticulously researched book, the authors delve into the archives to uncover the hidden history of Black people in the Victorian era, from the obscure to the prominent, from people many will have heard of, such as the composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, to the much more humble whose lives remain to us as little more than birth or death certificates. Here they are all given a voice. Most seem to have been whitewashed from history, but they are there in the public record and just needed someone’s dedication to bring them to our notice and pay them due tribute. Eminently readable and accessible, although I have to admit occasionally repetitive, this is not only an enlightening read but an important and necessary one, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.
An Enlightening Window on Particular Black Lives in 1800s Britain
Dr. Keisha Abraham who “has lived and worked all over the African Diaspora” as a USA academic has collaborated with John Woolf, a British academic “a researcher, writer, and historian specializing in nineteenth-century cultural history.”
Their collaboration has brought us an interesting series of short biographies of some seemingly ordinary and some more extraordinary, hidden black lives.
Their book is well researched and well crafted. You wonder how many black Victorian lives, they uncovered in total, during their research and how many other black lives, they could unveil in the future.
I should have liked to have seen more discussion of why the British apparently were more accepting and more ready to stand up for black civil rights, than the USA Americans. Was it the longevity of the British multicultural society from Angles, Saxons, Normans, French and Dutch refugees and even German bred monarchs?
The book for me, fell short in not attempting to guesstimate black percentages of the general population in nineteenth century Britain, as a whole, or within the sea ports, with the sailors and the dockers, having some black presence. Maybe I say this, because of all the British Commission for Racial Equality literature, that I read in the 1970s, where statistics were often so key.
Nonetheless the book gives an interesting and informative read, which makes it a four star read.
From an academic viewpoint, I found it very average, as it lacks in rigour and vigour, making it three star academically. Even so, I will still give it four stars for general reviews.
Thank you Duckworth Books and NetGalley for the free review copy of the book.
Thank you Netgalley for the e-ARC of this title. I enjoyed reading this title. Would recommend for my library.
“Black Victorians” by Kesha N. Abraham and John Woolf is fantastic and I can’t recommend it highly enough if you are looking for insight into the Victorian age written in an easy-to-read and compelling manner!
It is broken into five parts each with a different focus. Using individuals’ stories to change perceptions of this period of time, the writers connect one with real people building empathy and understanding. Considering the immense challenges faced by each, one can’t help but admire all of the people recognised but though this highlights a few, my takeaway is there are far far more who are unnamed and need to be remembered when we use the term “Victorian”.
Being a staunch supporter of female rights, the chapters focusing on women are my favourite! Pushing back against racism and sexism in an era when neither were seen as they are today is impressive and inspiring.
If you are looking for a challenging, enlightening, and enjoyable read, this is one for you! It’s a five out of five on the enJOYment scale!
This is a rigorously researched book that brings to life the stories of Black Brits across the different parts of society during the Victorian period.
There were parts of the book that were a bit dense - I think it is probably quite hard to balance the academic with the popular appeal - but overall, absolutely fascinating and captivating. It isn't a book to just read and get on to the next thing, as another reviewer said, it should be read with plenty of time and intent. It is an interesting and important book - and definitely one to, at the very least, inform if not integrate into curriculum planning going forward.
"Black Victorians delivered Shakespeare, abolitionist dramas, spirtuals, minstrel songs and classical music. They gave speeches and leactures; they wrote letters, novels, poems, articles and autobiographies. They spearheaded powerful polemics and political movements concerning abolitionism, Black feminism and Pan-Africanism."
These are just a few of the things the authors list in their conclusion to this excellent and fascinating book: Black Victorians were also evident throughout society and different lines of work, appeared in works of art and created them, engaged in religion and "operated both inside and outside the social structures of their time".
The authors take us through this range of appearances, using primary sources and archives and describing their work digging these out, but perhaps relying a little less on chunks of direct quotation than Gretchen Gerzina does in "Black England" (they acknowledge their debt to her book and there is a little overlap at the beginning of their period / the end of hers but not so much that you can't happily read both).
So at the start of the book, the authors recall the struggle to find Black people in the historical record when terminology was different or not used; they give the Victorian context before zoning in on individuals. There's certainly a range, as they pick out inhabitants of Broadmoor like William Brown, protestors like William Cuffay, aristocrats like Sarah Forbes Bonetta (whose descendants are still part of the elite today), artists' muses like Fanny Eaton, who used people's easy, glib take on ethnicity to forge a career being painted as all sorts of people, and anti-racist campaigners like the clever Ida B. Wells.
Intersectionality is acknowledged and there's a positivity and drive to celebrate and reclaim people who were instrumental in stopping cruelties and forming new alliances, such as the Pan-African ones. After looking back over history, the last chapter looks forward to new hopes and independence movements. It's a great survey and excellent addition to Black history studies.
A soundly researched book. I appreciated in particular the citations/footnotes at the end of each chapter, which enabled the reader to find source materials / and further readings in an area of interest, such as Sara Baartman for those interested in African women’s history / or African women’s bodies. I enjoyed the case studies which were presented under different themes music/arts. Public life/activism and the church. I thought the first case studies were poignant and were sound depictions of issues of mental health in the black community, especially due to the impact of racism, slavery and the struggle to survive. I thought the case study of Edward Albert was well done demonstrating black Victorians' resilience and fight for survival.
Through a gender lens, I found that the case studies provided insight on the lives of Black Victorian women with particularly poignant stories like Sara Bonetta - who demonstrated the often lack of personal agency that women had in Victorian times, and more so a Black Victorian woman adopted by nobility. Through the case studies of women in civil rights like Sarah Redmond and Ida Wells we see a tension between being respectable which provides credibility, while also being assertive enough to be able to get the message of black rights and the place of women in society. A fantastic set of case study - for those teaching on black women in feminism and civil rights. I would recommend this book for black history classes, African history classes/ particularly about the slave trade, some case studies can also discuss race and gender in the private and public sphere.
Many thanks to the authors, Keshia N. Abraham & John Woolf, publishers Duckworth Books LTD for allowing me to read this important book in exchange for my honest review.
"Black Victorians: Hidden in History" gives a powerful insight on the contributions made by Black individuals in Britain the Victorian Era. Contributions to the medical field, fine arts, military, political and religious endeavors. Black men and women thrived in the Victorian Era as aristocrats and of course many struggled in workforce.
This book does not sell the idea that Britain was without systemic racism, yet it is more than just a chronicle of the the effects of racism. It is a well rounded account of Black individuals, who lived, loved, thrived and struggled during the Victorian Era. "Black Victorians" gives us intimate looks at the lives of people like Edward Albert, an "afflicted street sweeper" who tirelessly lived his life making the most of what came his way. We meet people who were adopted into the life of royalty and respect. Yet, the book's burning question is one that burns right through the pages. "Can't I live?" The stories are familiar, stories of trial, stories of triumph, but the anticipation that your right to live freely and happily may always be in jeopardy, that your work will go unnoticed and unnamed.
This book sheds light on some of these lives and gives new breath to the purpose behind them. No longer will they be hidden in history, because where there is light, there can no longer be darkness. These lives and their legacies are now recorded and can be shared and passed on, made to live many lives and plant many seeds.
This book was wonderfully, and respectfully written. Authors Abraham and Woolf's give us a well research account of lives and I would certainly read another installment were there more to come.
I highly recommend this book to anyone, in fact this must read is essential in understanding the complexity of life as a Victorian.
Black Victorians have been overlooked, and forgotten, yet they played an important part in British Victorian history. Filled with intriguing and diverse individuals, this book restores them to history, and it provides an illuminating and fascinating look at how they dealt with terrible situations, including slavery and racism. Black Victorians covers Black people from different classes, and different professions, including the arts. It is not a story of victimhood, but rather one of agency.
This book tells the stories of people from the margins of society, such as Edward Albert, who became a cook, and a pastry chef who sold his own memoir, and William Flinn, who worked on vessels on the high seas and survived for thirty-eight years inside Broadmoor. Then there are those who protested like William Cuffay, who advocated for Chartism and eventually plotted against the Queen. He was transported to Australia.
Other people with fascinating stories include Sarah Forbes Bonetta in whom Queen Victoria took a special interest, the famous actor Ira Aldridge and the abolitionist Sarah Parker Remond. Most of the Black people covered in this book either achieved much in their professions, or fought for their rights against prejudice and discrimination.
I received this free ebook from NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Well written informative atopic I did not know that much about.The authors drew me in and I really enjoyed learning about the topic will be recommending.#netgalley #duckworthbooks.
An excellently researched and easily readable work that brought Black Victorians into focus from the lens of history that too often obscured and sometimes completely hid their presence. This was not a general history of Black Victorian experience but rather showed the wide rage of People of Color in all layers of society from insane asylums to aristocratic circles, from the church to the arts and political activity and protest through biographical sketches of people that may or may not be known to you. This monograph flowed easily between the interesting stories of these people lives to analysis and providing a context in which to view their actions and agency for they were not passive victims whatever their triumphs, tragedies and prejudices they faced. As one of the author noted, "...this book is concerned with resilience, not victimhood."
This work discussed "race" set in the context of the Victorian period. It was not limited to either "blacks" or "whites." The authors also reminded us that Victorians did not view race the same as we do today. And Victorians did not view race in the same manner as it was viewed in the United States. In fact, "the" Victorian view of race changed through time. It hardened and prejudice became more prevalent even while there were forces that challenged that view point. Thoughts and biases were often contradictory and hard to define with exact parameters. However, the authors identified strong influences throughout the period on the ever shifting perception of "race". This work was not mainly about those factors but were necessary to be discussed to view the people featured in this book in the right context. To ignore these factors that were in society would be another way to continue to obscure these people from history. It would also ignore the fact as Richard Wright said, "whites governed the conditions through which the discourse of race emerged and endures," which has impacted the presence of Blacks (capitalized for a reason as mentioned in the book) in historical discourse.
This was not Black history. This was history. Some of the people had large influences on movements and events that have been studied in the "main steam" history books for almost two centuries. The artistic influences of some of the people discussed are still felt today. While others were examples of people that were often not represented in the traditional narrative of history, i.e. insane asylum residents. The biographical accounts presented allow these people to be seen in history, that they were present. And that was and is important because, "...it is to history that we owe our frames of references, our identities, our aspirations." (James Baldwin)
I knew of some of the people (and those that I knew I learned more about and was challenged to view in a new way) while a majority I had not heard of. Finding out about William Darby, a/k/a Pablo Fanque, a talented and enterprising circus performer and owner was fascinating.
I was very glad the authors included Sarah Parker Remond a woman I greatly admire but does not often get mentioned. She was an African-American woman born to a non-enslaved, relatively well-off family in Massachusetts who challenged the norm that women did not speak in public to do Antislavery lectures in Great Britain with great success in front of thousands of people. She was part of the Executive Committee of a mostly white Antislavery Group in London during the American Civil War and wrote several pamphlets for the group. She also wanted to pursue her education which was not possible in America. She became a nurse and eventually a doctor and practiced medicine for about 20 years. Amazing!
I highly recommend this book. It was easy to read for people of all levels and still provided plenty of academic references. It was interesting too.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for an ARC in exchange for an honest opinion. (less)
Very interesting, I loved reading about a subject that I have never really heard about before! The writing also was engaging and smooth.
This was a very interesting, well-written, and clearly carefully researched book. Its focus was to help remind readers that while we may think we know much about history, so much of it has been forgotten, ignored, erased, overlooked, or whitewashed. By dividing "Black Victorians" into different sections and then each chapter introducing us to one particular Black Victorian, then expanding, Abraham and Woolf give the reader a fascinating look into history that weaves together so that at no time do any of the people or events stand alone, They cover abolitionists; artists and musicians; criminals; aristocrats; and clerics and missionaries; then within each biographical chapter explain how Britain and British attitudes or culture might have changed over the century, and how individuals used those cultural beliefs or fought against them to reach their goals.
A book that anyone interested in history would appreciate, this is also a book college courses on decolonization and history should look to as an interesting starting point for many a discussion.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
This book was certainly an enlightening piece of work focusing on the lives of Black individuals living in the Victorian period in England. It was incredibly moving to read about about some of their stories and life events, knowing that a lot of history has been whitewashed. For me, an individual of Caribbean heritage living in England, it was even emotional at times learning so much about Black Victorians who I had never heard of or been taught about before. Throughout this book I spent a lot of time reflecting on how my school never covered. Black people in British history even though it is now more clear that they were present. Some of the facts were absolutely shocking to me and I found myself highlighting sentences of this book throughout- something that I rarely do! For a non-fiction book, it definitely kept me engaged and I loved that chapters were split into themes which added an enjoyable flow.
This is definitely a must read for EVERYONE who is interested in British history (the non-whitewashed version)!
History is unofficially defined as being the story of the victors. That is to say, it is written from the perspective of the winners. When this is done, whole swathes of people and events are often marginalized, if not omitted outright. That is why a book like "Black Victorians Hidden in History" is such a necessary and vital read.
Authored by Keshia N. Abraham and John Woolf, "Black Victorians" presents profiles of 16 Black men and women who played pivotal roles in Britain. While the book has 5 parts, the profiles are grouped into 4 chapters in parts 2 through 5, with each group of 4 bound together by a common characteristic.
Written in a lively, informative tone, there are times when the authors become repetitive. I'm sure this was probably done for emphasis, but when it happens multiple times in each profiles, it becomes tedious.
Despite the moments of tedium, the book was extremely enlightening. I alredy knew about 5 out of the 16 people. So it was quite fascinating to learn about the other 11, particularly those who had a connection to Sierra Leone, where my parents are from. I especially enjoyed the chapter on composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, as I am a music lover. It spurred me to listen to his composition 'Hiawatha', which I found to be powerful and moving.
This book is not meant to be one the read zips through, but rather one that should be read carefully and purposefully. The goal of the authors was to shine a light on little-known or recognized black Victorians, and in this they were extremely successful. They more than demonstrated that black Victorians, and Black people period, were and are integral members of society and history.
The book ends with a fitting quote from Carter G. Woodson, about what history should really be: "...What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race, hate, and religious prejudice..." How wonderful it would be if this could truly happen.
Thanks to NetGalley, Keshia N. Abraham & John Woolf, and Duckworth Books for this advanced copy. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
With thanks to NetGalley, the authors, and the publishers for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
To begin with, this is a fantastically written book that is engaging throughout. Well written, exquisitely researched, and compiled beautifully.
The collaboration between Dr Keisha Abraham and John Woolf is at the forefront and appears to be solidly grounded in respect and deference to her expertise.
It’s a truly thought provoking and well researched history book, with phenomenal readability and intelligent discussion.
I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who has the faintest interest in history, the Victorian era, or the stories of everyday people.
I started a podcast which studies Black women throughout time and space, in worlds real and imagined. Season one focused on Black women in romantic period pieces, such as "Bridgerton" and "Sanditon." After much ill-informed critique about Black people throughout history, and where these Black people might be found, this book provides a well-researched record to re-inform said critique. From the foreword to end, this book is filled with facts that inform and humanize the subjects, but never patronize the reader. I would add this to your reading if you are studying, casting, writing, or critiquing period pieces and struggle with diversity.
This was a really interesting and well researched book that covered a wide range of individuals throughout the Victorian period - some I had heard of, and a great number that I had not. The depth and range of individuals was particularly important in highlighting the extent to which Victorian Britain had a long-standing Black community and how, as the authors state, the emphasis on who was 'the first' can distract from the length of time that Black people had been important and integral parts of British life.
A very important and interesting read.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC
First, let me begin this review by stating: I WANT A COPY OF THIS BOOK. Please, Somebody, get me this for Whatever-the-Next-Gifting-Holiday-is! I also fervently hope that Duckworth Books will have this available (at a reasonable price!) through an American imprint so it can be adopted for college courses in the United States. This is the perfect book for a decolonizing history curriculum whether the course is focused on Modern Europe, Black History, History of Racism, Modern World -- or, in my case -- Roots of Contemporary Issues.
The reasons: First, the book is broken down into assignable, digestible thematic sections and chapters which focus on a single individual and their historical significance. Part One is "Context and Concealment" and it provides an overview of the state of black history in Europe and in Victorian Era historiography. Here, the point is made that the act of existing is resistance itself, it is a decolonizing act to just be. Bringing these histories to the forefront is a necessary and powerful step towards decolonizing history as it is popularly understood, historical narrative, and the academy. The following sections: "Struggle and Survival", "Church and State", "Cultural VIPs", and "Fighting for Freedom" offer well-researched deep dives into specific individuals across all classes, genders, and social positions. Working class black Britons, criminals, socialites, intellectuals, clergy, activists and freedom fighters are given a moment of spotlight and discussed as part of a larger colored and white fabric of Victorian society. This is a fantastic prosopography. And it could easily be partitioned to assign one or a few chapters per week to undergraduate students.
The second reason this book is ideal for an undergraduate seminar or an introductory survey course is because the readability of this book is amazing. Abraham's and Woolf's prose is smooth, the language requires little effort, their arguments are explicit, allowing for an easy transition from archival data to analysis to discussion. Indeed, the shift from storytelling to analysis is so seamless that many students are likely to be fooled into reading the entirety of any chapter assigned! Bonus: I bet the kids will really enjoy it. I am told over and over by students that they love seeing the "real people" in history.
The third reason is that while its accessibility makes it the perfect addition to any library, for any level of reader, it is also perfect for the more advanced historian, including those well versed in historiography and professional history production. Simply put, our own training is steeped in colonial and orientalist standards that have obscured the presence of color and ethnicity. We need to read this. I could not help but feel joy at reading this, though I am not black I am a scholar of color and from a former colony to boot! Black Victorians: Hidden in History is not the first or only of its kind, but is part of a larger movement towards decolonizing European history, which has been and remains largely as white history. Black Victorians joins Olivette Otele's African Europeans: An Untold History (2021) and Miranda Kaufman's Black Tudors: The Untold Story (2018) and others which are highlighting the transnational presence of Black people in other eras. The "Untold" theme across these recent histories is telling and a clue to the point being made: Black People never were confined to the so-called Dark Continent, that notion was a myth promulgated by a eurocentric academy, a eurocentric world -- and Here! Here is proof!
Therefore, and perhaps most significantly, Black Victorians is bound to hit with younger readers, a generation for which representation matters and matters a lot! This is for the next generation for whom the symbols and the exhibition of blackness can have an immense impact on their decisions now and in the future. Our students of color need to see themselves in their classrooms, on the big screen (by which I mean the white board and projector screen in the front of the classroom).
All this said, merely bringing black Victorians to the forefront is not the endgame. It is not the last word on this. This is only the beginning; the conclusion emphasizes not only existence of black victorians, but points out that black victorians -- black people -- have played significant roles in shaping their moment as well as the present, thus their historical existence was not static, sealed in a vacuum, but interactive and dynamically integrated with white victorian society. This is the more powerful message, one which the book manifests.
Again, please, someone, gift me a copy of this book! I will be looking for it to assign in a future course!
I received a free ARC copy of this via NetGalley and the publishers in return for an unbiased review. I was interested to read this because of the title - I’ve always been interested in the lesser known parts of history. This book gives us an overview of several Black Victorians, from actors and writers, to slaves/freed, activists, high society, etc., grouped into themes such as politics. At times, I felt the “academic” lens dominated a bit, overshadowing the people it was writing about - I was hoping for a more accessible style which would tell me more about the people themselves, than an academic essay tone which was harder to follow for me personally. That’s why I gave it 3 stars rather than 4.