Academics are to compile the first index of investors into the UK's historical slave trade, after receiving £1 million ($1.3m) in government funding.
This follows a year of debate about the celebration of Britain’s colonial past in which statues and memorials to slave owners were removed or renamed in response to anti-racism campaigns.
“We’re looking at the entire population of investors in the slave trade, not just independent investors, but also the corporations that were involved,” William Pettigrew, professor of history at Lancaster University, told CNN.
The index will highlight the involvement of some high-profile investors, including the man widely considered to be Britain’s first prime minister, Robert Walpole.
Scheduled for publication in print and online by 2024, the project received funding from the UK's Arts and Humanities Research Council.
The index will show how the slave trade permeated all levels of British society, said Prof Pettigrew, who is leading the project.
“It’s not just this narrative of very, very wealthy merchants becoming extremely wealthy out of this horrific trade,” he said.
“It’s about the social breadth of investment ... the extent to which ordinary shopkeepers invested large proportions of their capital in slave-trading voyages.”
Historic England, a public body, reports that Britain enslaved 3.1 million Africans.
Britain’s national archives show many of them were taken to the Caribbean to work on sugar plantations, making their owners wealthy.
This year, as Black Lives Matter protests swept the world, the UK’s celebration of some of those involved in the trade, and the relative lack of teaching about the topic in British schools, came under more intense scrutiny.
“Public appetite and hunger for high-quality data that underpins these public debates has grown greater and greater,” Prof Pettigrew said.