The International Carl Bernhard Wadström Conference on Human Rights and the Abolition of Slavery, London 2-4 June 2015

Organized by the Centre for Scandinavian Studies Copenhagen-Lund (CSS), in conjunction with the Swedenborg Society and the Anglo-Swedish Society, the International Carl Bernhard Wadström Conference on Human Rights and the Abolition of Slavery is a three-day conference on the Swedish and British cosmopolitanism and philanthropy of the eighteenth century, with a particular focus on the life, work and impact of Carl Bernhard Wadström (1746-99), an internationally prominent abolitionist, economist, author and Swedenborgian.

Wadström was an important figure in Swedish and international affairs who significantly helped to change the course of history. Sadly, English-speaking academics have, over the years, had little access to a wealth of Swedish documents, whilst Swedish scholars have until recently had little interest in the international history of the slave trade and abolitionist movement, meaning that Wadström’s name has all too often been overlooked and his achievements clouded in undeserved obscurity. This Conference will remedy this anomaly, demonstrating all the while the same spirit of Swedish-British humanitarian cooperation as was instigated by Wadström in London in the 1780s and 90s.

An interdisciplinary and international group of researchers have been invited to speak at the Conference to shed light on Wadström’s work and influence in the fields of economy, science, abolitionism, travel writing, African colonial history, Swedenborgianism, philanthropy, utopianism and human rights. The papers delivered at the Conference will result in the publication of a book by an established international academic publishers that will provide greater publicity for and dissemination of the Conference’s findings.

The Lord Mayor of London has kindly made the Egyptian Hall of the Mansion House available for the opening evening of the Conference on 2nd June. (Details of how to buy tickets for this evening can be found here).

The Swedenborg Society will then play host to the two days of Conference proceedings on 3rd and 4th of June at their headquarters of Swedenborg House in Bloomsbury. Places for these two days are free, but people wanting to attend must register in advance. Details of how to register can be found here.

Carl Bernhard Wadström (1746-99), was a Swedish economist, writer and Swedenborgian who is today chiefly remembered for his pivotal role in the antislavery movement. In 1787 he was sponsored by the Swedish monarch, Gustaf III, to lead an expedition to west Africa with the intentions of establishing a Swedish colony to trade with Africans on philanthropic principles. It was on this trip, in Guinea, that Wadström witnessed at first hand the full horrors and brutality of the slave trade. He began to work tirelessly for the abolition of slavery, writing two hugely influential works on the matter: Observations on the Slave Trade (1789) and An Essay on Colonization (1794-5), the latter becoming the key text for the economic and humanist arguments against slavery. These books gained Wadström an audience with the British Prime Minister, William Pitt, and brought him into close contact and collaboration with the leading British abolitionists, William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharp. Wadström’s campaigning against the slave trade was in part inspired by his Swedenborgian beliefs, and he was similarly influential in propagating the works of Emanuel Swedenborg, bringing many of his unpublished manuscripts over to Britain for publication and translation, and helping to fund and issue the first Swedenborgian periodical, The New Jerusalem Magazine. Wadström lived in London for a number of years, being baptized into the nascent separatist New Jeruslaem Church in Great Eastcheap on Christmas day 1788. In 1795 Wadström moved to Paris where he was made an honorary citizen and where he established the French abolitionist society, the Réunion des Amis des Noirs et de Colons. He died in Paris on 6 April 1799 from a pulmonary complaint and was given a state funeral complete with honours.

wadstrom mmedal

Medal featuring Wadström, coined by the Swedish Academy, 1860. Engraved by Lea Ahlborn.

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