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BDFI co-produces a conference on slave traders Sandbach Tinne

Sandbach Tinne Malik speaking

Malik Al Nasir speaking at the M Shed

Sandbach Tinne VR goggles

A participant exploring digital archives using virtual reality goggles

Sandbach Tinne Dimitra workshop

Prof. Dimitra Simeonidou hosting a workshop on digital archives

14 November 2023

BDFI recently hosted a two-day conference exploring the legacy, history and archives of the Sandbach Tinne company, a slave trading conglomerate that had far-reaching influence across the British Empire and connections to Bristol.

This conference brought together a group of researchers, historians and archivists from universities, museums and libraries from across the UK to present their findings. The conference also set out to explore how these extensive and important archives, which extend to Guyana, the US and elsewhere, could be brought to life for a much wider audience by using immersive technology. 

Curated by Malik Al Nasir (University of Cambridge), who has traced his own ancestry to the Sandbach Tinne family, the conference was made possible by a collaboration with the University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor of Research and Enterprise, Philip Taylor, and the Bristol Digital Futures Institute, led by Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, Academic Co-Director.     

Day 1 of the conference was held at Bristol Museums M Shed, and a broad range of speakers presented fascinating new insights into different aspects of Sandbach Tinne. This included Sandbach Tinne family life, their business and political activities, and evidence of their slave-trading operations and influential role at the heart of the British establishment.

Talks ranged from the families’ art collections to their estate purchases in Scotland and Carribean trading routes. Alice Kinghorn (University of Bristol, Department of History) presented research that revealed Sandbach Tinne’s long-standing connections to Bristol, including their business dealings with Joseph Beete of Clifton and the Bristol West India Association.

Prof. Philip Taylor and Prof. Evelyn Welch, Vice Chancellor and President of University of Bristol, hosted a conference dinner where a passionate and provocative keynote address was delivered by broadcaster and historian David Olusoga.

Day 2 of the conference was held at the home of BDFI, on the University’s Temple Quarter campus, and focused on how the Sandbach Tinne archives and research community could be developed further and the role that immersive technologies could play in this.

Prof. Simeonidou led a workshop on digital archives that looked at the connectivity challenges with immersive experiences. The workshop explored how to enable connectivity across international archives and collaborations, for example with US-based researchers who joined the sessions remotely. Attendees were able to use VR headsets to experience a demonstration, developed by University of Cambridge Library Services and University of Bristol Library, of a virtual museum displaying Sandbach Tinne artefacts which they could virtually pick up and look at in detail.

Prof. Philip Taylor, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at University of Bristol, said: “We were delighted to help produce this conference which gave a fascinating insight into this important part of our history. Malik’s research has exposed previously unseen archives and evidence showing the role that Sandbach Tinne played in transporting and trading enslaved people. We’re pleased so many people could attend to hear the research first hand, and discover how digital archives can help to share the research more widely and accessibly. Thank you to everyone who was involved and helped to make the event such a success.”

Prof. Dimitra Simeonidou, Co-Director of BDFI, said: “Using immersive and interactive technologies to share historic archives is a really exciting way of offering access to important historic objects and documents to audiences, breaking barriers of numbers and distance. I look forward to exploring how this can be developed further in the future.”

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