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Archaeology and History

Photo of Dr Ryan Hanley

Dr Ryan Hanley

Senior Lecturer (E&R)


01392 722516


I am an historian of race and slavery in modern Britain, with particular interests in the contributions and perspectives of people of African descent and the intersection of race and class, from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. I have published on black intellectuals, cultures of slavery and abolition, and early examples of racial populism in Britain.

My current research, looks at the relationship between the abolition debates and the emergence of working-class identities in Britain. This follows on from my first two monographs, Beyond Slavery and Abolition, published in 2018 by Cambridge University Press, and Robert Wedderburn: British Insurrectionary, Jamaican Abolitionist, to be published in 2024 by Yale University Press.

I have a particular interest in promoting equity and justice in higher education, and decolonising approaches to pedagogy and research in History. I currently serve as Academic Lead for Student Support (Race Equality and Inclusion) for the Department of History and Archaeology, and have served as Widening Participation Officer and Chair of the Decolonising History working group.

I enjoy communicating my research to the public and my work has been featured in BBC History magazine, The Guardian and The Times. I have been interviewed on BBC World Service, Britain's Most Historic Towns (Channel 4) and The History Workshop Podcast. I welcome media enquiries on any area of my research.

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My research covers both the historic black presence in Britain and the role of race in society, especially in relation to transatlantic slavery and its abolition. Influenced by postcolonial theory, and seeking to emphasise the impact of Empire on British culture, it is most often located in the framework of the 'New Imperial History'.

My first monograph, Beyond Slavery and Abolition, explores the contributions of eight key figures of the African diaspora to the fields of celebrity, evangelical religion, and political radicalism in Britain and the Atlantic world. This book argues that by decentring slavery and race in our account of Afro-British intellectual achievement during this period, we see that the traditional distinction between ‘black’ and ‘mainstream’ history is an artificial one. Eighteenth and nineteenth-century black British thought did not begin and end with the question of slavery; black intellectuals were also famous writers, spiritual leaders and subversive radicals. In many cases, such figures provided crucial links between national or local concerns such as religious education or parliamentary reform and the fundamentally transnational world of the revolutionary Atlantic. Beyond Slavery and Abolition therefore situates seemingly ‘domestic’ aspects of British history firmly within their global and intercultural contexts.

My second monograph, Robert Wedderburn: British Insurrectionary, Jamaican Abolitionist tells the remarkable story of the most radical British antislavery writer and orator of the nineteenth century. Among the most outspoken and charismatic Black radicals of the nineteenth century, Wedderburn led a life on the margins of legality but was able to produce some of the most forthright and radical antislavery works of his - or indeed any - generation. My biography charts Wedderburn's meteoric rise from the plantations of Jamaica to the apex of London's ultra-radical underworld, and his spectacular fall into criminality, violence and the oblivion of the hostile state archive. This monograph is due for publication in Spring/Summer 2024 with Yale University Press.

My current book project, ‘Slavery and the British Working Class: Race, Populism and Empire, 1787-1838’, is supported by a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship (2017-2020). This interdisciplinary project draws on literary analysis and postcolonial theory as well as archival research to examine the shifting and sometimes disturbing relationship between transatlantic slavery, conceptions of race and popular politics in Britain during the abolition debates. This project seeks to understand why so many working-class radicals came to embrace racial pseudoscience by 1833 through an examination of anti-abolitionist and pro-slavery discourses aimed specifically at working-class readerships and printed in periodicals, pamphlets and newspapers. Resituating the history of British popular radicalism within its imperial and global contexts, this project explores the origins of phenomena such as anti-immigration rhetoric, working-class backlashes against metropolitan elites, and racial populism, uncovering the deep roots of contemporary British political culture.

I am also in the planning stages of a major new global history of British abolitionism, provisionally entitled 'Unfinished Business: An Incomplete History of Britain's Global Struggle Against Slavery'. This book, under contract with Oxford University Press, will recast the long, globe-spanning history of British anti-slavery efforts through the lens of the movement's many compromises and partial successes. It is due to be published in 2032, in time for the 200th anniversary of the passing of the 1833 Abolition of Slavery Act.

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I am interested in supervising research projects in the following areas:

  • British slavery and anti-slavery
  • Black British history
  • "Race" and ethnicity in Britain
  • Working-class cultural identity
  • Political radicalism and conservatism
  • Public history and heritage of Empire and "race"

While my own research interests centre on British social and cultural history in the period c.1750-1850, I am happy to discuss potential projects that fall outside these dates, especially those relating to matters of "race" and racism, Empire and colonialism in the metropole, and decolonising approaches to British history.

Research students

Current PhD Students:

Asha Ali, 'Resisting Erasure: Black Muslim Women’s Agency and Belonging in the Ummah in Britain'

Completed PhD Students:

Yawei Han, '"The Remaking of Man”: The Social Reform Proposals of Sidney and Beatrice Webb'. Completed June 2023.

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Copyright Notice: Any articles made available for download are for personal use only. Any other use requires prior permission of the author and the copyright holder.

| 2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 |


  • Han Y. (2023) “The Remaking of Man” ---- The Social Reform Proposals of Sidney and Beatrice Webb.






  • Hanley R. (2018) The Equiano Effect, Migrant Britain, Routledge, 262-271, DOI:10.4324/9781315159959-30. [PDF]
  • Hanley R. (2018) Beyond Slavery and Abolition Black British Writing, c.1770–1830, Cambridge University Press.





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External impact and engagement

Contribution to discipline

  • Fellow of the Royal Historical Society
  • Executive Committee Member, British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies
  • Convenor, 'Black British History: Concepts, Geographies, Debates' seminar, Institute for Historical Research
  • Member, Social History Society

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Please be aware that I am on research leave from January 2024 to September 2026 and will not be teaching during this period.

While my research has primarily focused on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, my portfolio of teaching is chronologically broad and extends well into the twentieth century. I believe that the subject of race in Britain should be explored diachronically – not as isolated or aberrant, but as fundamental to the continuous evolution of national identity throughout modern British history.

I have been a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy since 2016.

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I was awarded my PhD at the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull in 2014. I went on to work at the University of Oxford, University College London, and the University of Bristol. I have held visiting fellowships at Queen Mary University London, at the Huntingdon Library in California. I was one of the inaugural Lapidus-OI Fellows at the Omohundro Institute in Virginia in 2014. I joined the University of Exeter in 2019.

In 2015, my article ‘Calvinism, Proslavery and James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw Gronniosaw’, published in the journal Slavery & Abolition, was awarded the Royal Historical Society Alexander Prize.

In 2019, Beyond Slavery and Abolition: Black British Writing, c,1770-1830 was awarded the Royal Historical Society Whitfield Prize.

In 2021, I gave the prestigious Nathan I. Huggins Lectures at the Hutchins Center for African and African-American History at Harvard University.

In 2023, I was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize for my work on the history of race, class, and slavery in Britain.

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