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Confronting the Past in British Business

Module description

In recent years British business has been compelled to confront its past in relation to slavery and racism. The Black Lives Matter movement led to reconsideration of leading figures in British history. Most famously the statue of Edward Colston (1636-1721) in Bristol was toppled in June 2020. Colston was a philanthropist in Bristol but part of his wealth came from his role in the Royal African Company, which transported more Africans into slavery than any other British company in the history of the Atlantic slave trade. Cass Business School, part of City University in London, changed its name to Bayes Business School, after it was realized that Sir John Cass (1661-1718) was also a key figure in the Royal African Company. This module will look at the historical involvement of British business in slavery and colonialism. It will consider how the legacies of slavery and racism affect modern business in the UK and international relations, focusing on particular episodes such as Colston’s statue. The module will consider classic texts on slavery and racism in relation to contemporary debates, focusing specifically on the implications for business not just society in general. It will then look at a series of recent events and examine debates in the press and social media, again specifically focusing on how business could or should play a part in confronting the past. It is expected that students will be prepared to examine social media where much of the most vociferous debate takes place. The module is open to students across the university.

Full module specification

Module title:Confronting the Past in British Business
Module code:BEM2049
Module level:2
Academic year:2023/4
Module lecturers:
  • Professor Michael Rowlinson - Convenor
Module credit:15
ECTS value:






Duration of module: Duration (weeks) - term 2:


Module aims

The aim is to provide students with an appreciation of historical context for contemporary debates around diversity and corporate social responsibility. The module will provide final year students with the confidence to discuss diversity within a historical understanding of the sensitivities surrounding such issues. The aim is for students to be able to conduct independent research to assess the claims made in the press and social media. Students should be able to assess the relevance of diversity and history for business.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Discuss the historical context of business in the past and present in relation to issues such as slavery, colonialism, and racism
  • 2. Explain the strategies pursued by businesses in relation to issues such as slavery, colonialism, and racism
  • 3. Evaluate how businesses have met the political, ethical, and cultural challenges concerning issues such as slavery, colonialism, and racism at different historical times
  • 4. Assess historical and contemporary sources from conflicting perspectives

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. Collect evidence on businesses from multiple sources including online and social media
  • 6. Construct an original research project on particular event or business either in the past or responding to events from the past

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Present evidence from multiple sources including online and social media
  • 8. Produce a research report using primary sources in an appropriate academic style

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activity11Weekly lecture
Scheduled learning and teaching activities8Weekly seminar
Guided Independent Study131Reading, research, essay, group work

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group presentation from 4 students during seminar15-20 mins4,5,7Feedback sheet to group after seminar

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay402000 words excluding references1,2,8Written feedback
Research project602500 words excluding references3,4,5,6,7,8Written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay Essay (2000 words, 40%)1,2,8Ref/def period
Research projectResearch project (2500 words, 60%)3,4,5,6,7,8Ref/def period

Syllabus plan

The module will consider classic texts such as Williams Capitalism and Slavery in relation to contemporary debates. This will be followed by a discussion of sources for researching business in the past and present, in particular the UCL Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery and the Financial Times Historical Archive, as well as social media such as Twitter and Facebook. The module will then consider particular events such as the toppling of Colston’s statue in 2020, the changing name of Bayes Business School.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Akala. (2019) Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire. Two Roads.

Williams, E. (1944) Capitalism and Slavery. Due to be released as a Penguin Modern Classic 2022

Hall, C. (2014) Legacies of British Slave-Ownership: Colonial Slavery and the Formation of Victorian Britain. Cambridge University Press.

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Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

UCL Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery

Financial Times Historical Archive

Origin date


Last revision date