Legacies on Display: Slavery in Museums

‘Legacies on Display’ is a new online collection, launching today on the Antislavery Usable Past website. It is a showcase of museums around the world that address slavery past and present, on a permanent basis. This is the first time that such a collection has been curated.

Museums are exciting places to see the ‘usable past’ in action. They bring together objects, people and places, and prompt discussions unable to be had elsewhere in our communities. The aims of the collection were to create a resource for researchers, and the general public, that physically locates these sites, as well as to raise the profile of the museums themselves. It also provides a wider insight into how museums in different places engage with the subject- what objects do they have? What are the key themes that they identify? Who’s voices feature in the display?

Spier SN

Image: Contemporary artist Marco Cianfanelli’s ‘The Dying Slave’ installation at Spier, a wine estate with museum in South Africa (photograph courtesy of Sam North). 

To answer these questions each of the museums were thoroughly researched and can be viewed along with a description of their displays on the collection site. These museums span six continents, and include a range of institutions; from renovated slave forts in West Africa, former plantations in America and purpose-built national institutions in the Caribbean, to port city museums in the UK. There are different forms of slavery covered, across five hundred years of history to the present day.

Highlights from the collection include:

  • Wilberforce House Museum, Hull, UK– The world’s oldest slavery museum and home of Britain’s most famous abolitionist, William Wilberforce.
  • The National Museum of African American History, Washington D.C, USA- Described by its director Dr Lonnie Bunch as ‘a museum for all Americans,’ the museum firmly embeds the history of slavery with the development of the USA as a nation.
  • Bin Jelmood House, Doha, Qatar- The only museum in the Arab world that addresses slavery, with a particular focus on the enslavement of people across the Middle East.
  • House of Slaves, Gorée Island, Senegal- A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, the renovated former slave fort features the poignant ‘door of no return’ through which enslaved Africans were forced onto ships bound for the Americas or the Caribbean.
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site, Ontario, Canada- The museum is located on the site where the Rev. Josiah Henson set up a settlement for the many fugitives from slavery in the USA who fled to Canada. Harriet Beecher Stowe based her protagonist, Uncle Tom, on Henson.

The collection is fully searchable via an interactive map, or key words such as the name of the museum or the country in which it is located. Each museum is also tagged with key themes that can be searched, in addition to any organisations it may be involved in, such as the Federation of International Human Rights Museums, or the International Coalition for Sites of Conscience.

To browse the collection in full visit: www.antislavery.ac.uk/legaciesondisplayslaveryinmuseums.

If you have any queries, comments or suggestions for additional museums contact r.nelson@2015.hull.ac.uk.
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