UWE launches Bristol history project on ethnic diversity

Issue date: 16 March 2006

logo Historians at UWE's School of History are leading an innovative project about a thousand and one years of immigration to Bristol. The project, which will produce a book and an interactive website, will be launched at the Watershed on 21 March by former Bristol MP Tony Benn.

UWE has been awarded £120,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to write the history of ethnic minorities from medieval times to the present day. The award is part of a £6 million project called 'England's Past for Everyone', co-ordinated by Victoria County History at the University of London's Institute of Historical Research.

The initiative is welcomed by UWE's Vice-Chancellor Sir Howard Newby, who said, “Civic pride and understanding are important to Bristol. This project is a wonderful opportunity for all sections of our community to contribute and learn from Bristol's history of immigration. Bristol is a dynamic and diverse city and this project uses best practice in modern techniques to gather and analyse multiple views and perspectives.”

Also speaking at the launch will be Kate Brindley, Director of Bristol's Museum Service and Professor Geoffrey Channon, dean of UWE's Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences. The leaders of the Bristol project, Madge Dresser and Dr Peter Fleming of UWE's Regional History Centre, said the study would consider Bristol's civic identity and how this developed during over a millennium of population movements and ethnic diversity.

Madge Dresser said that this project will be academically rigorous, and will produce a lavishly illustrated book and a website. These will be enriched by insights and contributions from the wider community, including family historians, reminiscence groups, local activists and long time-residents with stories, documents and artefacts to contribute. For this project, UWE has joined forces with the city Museum and Archives Service and the city library, which have also launched initiatives in the history of ethnic minorities.

Madge Dresser said, “Our EPE project will supply some of the in-depth research to complement these initiatives and put them in context, and will provide the first overview ever-written on the 'long-view' of ethnic diversity in the city.

“We want to know how the host community in Bristol responded to foreign immigration from medieval times to the end of the twentieth century. For example, did the local elite treat the rural English poor differently from foreign migrants and their Bristol-born descendants? And what were the experiences of the incoming groups – from Welsh, Irish and Jews in medieval times to Poles, Afro-Caribbeans, South Asians and Somalis in the late 20th century?”

The researchers are looking forward to receiving information and oral histories from the public, and will be assisted by a team of volunteers to help document the findings.


Editor's notes:

1. The Bristol project is being co-ordinated by UWE's Regional History Centre. For more information on the Centre, contact director Dr Steve Poole or visit http://humanities.uwe.ac.uk/regionhistory/rhcnew/index.htm

2. The project leaders have published extensively on the history of Bristol. Previous works of include:
• Madge Dresser: Slavery Obscured: the Social History of the Slave Trade in an English Provincial Port, Continuum Press, 2001
• Phillip Ollerenshaw & Madge Dresser (eds) The Making of Modern Bristol, Redcliffe Press, 1996
• Peter Fleming and Kieran Costello (eds) Discovering Cabot's Bristol: Life in the Medieval and Tudor Town, Redcliffe Press, 1998

3. In all, fourteen projects have been funded by the Victoria County History's England's Past for Everyone project. More information can be found at

The other projects are:

Bristol Immigrants and Minorities in Bristol 1000-2000
Cornwall The Religious Houses of Cornwall and Penwith: the fishing communities of Newlyn and Mousehole
Derbyshire Bolsover Castle and Hardwick Hall
County Durham The Origins of Sunderland and The Townscape of Sunderland
Exmoor The Settlement of Exmoor
Herefordshire A Herefordshire Market Town: Ledbury since 1500 and Medieval Ledbury
Kent People and Work in the Medway Valley c.1750-1900
Oxfordshire Burford's Buildings and The Origins and Growth of Henley on Thames
Sussex Parham: and Elizabethan House and its Restoration
Wiltshire Codford: Change and Community in a Wiltshire Village

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