The Wisbech and Fenland Museum is one of the oldest, purpose-built museums in Britain. With its origins dating back to 1835, visitors are welcomed into a real ‘treasure house,' with collections housed in original nineteenth century cases. The museum is free to enter and focusses on local history, housing the vast and varied collection of the town’s literary and museum societies. Using these, the museum presents displays on a range of themes relating to key local industries, wildlife, archaeological finds and important people from the area.
One of these important people is Wisbech-born Thomas Clarkson, and it is through him that the theme of antislavery fills several of the largest cases in the main gallery. Using a combination of personal collections, archive material and objects linked to the wider slave trade (notably whips and a manacle), the museum follows Thomas Clarkson’s contribution to the abolition campaign, both in Britain and abroad. The museum also exhibits the narrative of Thomas’ brother John Clarkson who was instrumental in facilitating the movement of freed-slaves from Nova Scotia, Canada, to Sierra Leone.
This display was developed as a larger, standalone exhibition for the 2007 bicentenary entitled ‘A Giant with One Idea,’ but this was reduced following the end of the commemorations as funding was withdrawn.
Wilberforce House Museum is one of the world's oldest slavery museums. It opened in 1906 after the building, the house where leading abolitionist William Wilberforce was born, was bought by the Hull Corporation to preserve it for reasons of learning and of civic pride. Initially a local history museum, at the centre of Hull's historic High Street, the collections soon expanded through public donations and, unsurprisingly, these donations focussed heavily on items relating to Wilberforce. Today the museum and its collections are owned by Hull City Council and managed by Hull Culture and Leisure Limited. It forms part of Hull's 'Museums Quarter' alongside museums on transport, local social history and archaeology. In addition to the Wilberforce displays, the museum also features period room settings, silver, furniture and clocks, as well as a gallery exploring the history of the East Yorkshire Regiment.
The galleries at Wilberforce House Museum tell many different stories. An exploration of the history of the house welcomes visitors into the museum, followed by displays about William Wilberforce from his childhood, to his work and his family life. These galleries have examples of costume, books, domestic items and even the 1933 Madame Tussauds wax model of Wilberforce himself. Up the grand cantilever staircase, installed by the Wilberforce family in the 1760s, the displays continue. Here they look at the history of slavery and the origins of the British transatlantic slave trade. One gallery contains items that illustrate the richness of African culture prior to European involvement, dispelling the traditional myth that Africa was empty and uncivilised before the intervention of the Western world. Following that, the exhibition narrative goes on to look at the process of enslavement, the logistics of the trading system, the Middle Passage and slave auctions. Again, a wide range of collections are used to illustrate the informative panels. This is repeated in the displays about plantation life and resistance.
Of course no museum about William Wilberforce would be complete without an exhibition on antislavery and the abolition movement. This is extended with two galleries which look at the legacies of such a campaign in terms of modern slavery and human rights today. There are opportunities in these galleries for visitors to provide their comments and opinions, through several interactives, as well as engage with ideas as to how they can actively participate in today's campaign to end modern slavery.
The National Maritime Museum is the largest maritime museum in the world. It forms part of the Royal Museums Greenwich UNESCO World Heritage Site. The NMM houses ten galleries that all showcase Britain’s Maritime History. Its mission is 'to enrich people’s understanding of the sea, the exploration of space, and Britain's role in world history’. ‘The Atlantic Worlds Gallery,' launched in 2007 for the commemoration of the bicentenary, charts the interconnections between Britain, Africa and the Americas between 1600 and 1850. The gallery is about the movement of people, goods and ideas across and around the Atlantic Ocean from the 17th century to the 19th century. The connections created by these movements affected people across three continents, impacting on their cultures and communities and shaping the world we live in today. Four main themes are explored within the gallery, including exploration, war, enslavement and resistance. These displays benefited extensively from the museum's purchase of the Michael Graham-Stewart Slavery Collection in 2002. 'Atlantic Worlds' charts the triangular trade through African civilisations, enslavement and the Middle Passage, and the abolition movement. It recounts the stories of some of the people involved in the resistance movement and the campaign for the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade – including Toussaint l’Ouverture, Olaudah Equiano and Samuel Sharp whose acts of resistance and rebellion were crucial to the turning of European public opinion against the trade. Its narrative also goes beyond the achievement of legal abolition in Britain, to include discussions of the Royal Navy's involvement in suppressing the trade world wide.
The Museum of London Docklands houses the Port and River collections of the Museum of London. The aim of these museums is to showcase the growth and development of London, from the Roman era through to the present day. In a period of expansion for the Museum of London, the Museum of London Docklands was opened in 2003 in a Grade I listed warehouse on West India Quay, the historic trading heart of London.
Due to its location in a warehouse which would very likely have stored sugar, and other slave-produced items, the history of the transatlantic slave trade and its impact on London fits well within this space. ‘London, Sugar and Slavery’ was originally produced in 2007 as part of the bicentenary commemorations but has since become a permanent part of the museum. The displays have a local focus, supported through a wide range of objects, and consider the impact of the slave trade on London historically and today.
On entering the gallery visitors are met with a list of ships that traded slaves from the West India Quay- placing them right there in the story. Next there are discussions of the economics of slavery, and indications of how the money made from it changed the city of London forever. The exhibition also includes discussions of resistance, and abolition- centring the movement on the mass movement in the wider population with a case entitled ‘Abolition on the Streets.’ To bring the display up to date there is a discussion of representations of black people in popular culture, with objects including children’s books, film memorabilia, toys and prints, in line with a further piece on racism in London.
The International Slavery Museum (ISM) is the first museum in the world to focus specifically on slavery, both historical and modern. Managed by National Musuems Liverpool, it opened to great acclaim in 2007 and has since welcomed over 3.5million visitors. Through its displays and wide-ranging events programme, the ISM aims to tackle ignorance and misunderstanding in today’s society by exploring the lasting impact of the transatlantic slave trade around the world. On entering the ISM, visitors immediately arrive in a space designed to provoke thoughts and discussion- the walls are etched with powerful quotations from historical figures and contemporary activists, many from the African diaspora. There is a display of West African culture, designed to showcase the breadth and depth of African civilisation before the devastation caused by the transatlantic slave trade, which includes examples of textiles, musical instruments and other ethnographic material. The display then goes on to look at the trade itself; the logistics, the processes and who benefitted on one hand, whilst also exploring the experience of the enslaved through multisensory interpretive techniques, including an emotive film of what the Middle Passage may have been like. All of these displays are supported by the rich, local archival collections, drawing on Liverpool’s own history as a prosperous, slave-trading port. Moving forward along a chronological timeline, the exhibition then covers abolition, significantly beginning with the acts of resistance from the enslaved themselves, through to organised abolition movements and then discussing the continued fight for freedom through the post-emancipation then civil rights era, right into the twenty-first century. The lasting legacies of the trade are thoroughly examined, from racism and the under-development of African countries, to the spread of African culture and diverse nature of Liverpool’s communities. A unique feature of the ISM is its ‘Campaign Zone’, opened in 2010, which houses temporary exhibitions just off the main gallery space. These are frequently run in conjunction with campaign organisations and usually focus on aspects of modern slavery, highlighting to visitors that it is very much still a live issue and not one that has been relegated to history. Recent exhibitions in this space have included 'Broken Lives' organised with the Daalit Freedom Network and 'Afro Supa Hero' with artist Jon Daniels.
'House Slave - Field Slave: A Portrait of Contemporary Slavery' by Nicola Green was first exhibited at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in October 2007. It was then exhibited as part of Haringey's Black History Month at Bruce Castle Museum in October - December 2010. Nicola's triptych is now in the permanent collection at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool.
Nicola Green's portrait of contemporary slavery 'House Slave - Field Slave' was made for and in collaboration with Anti-Slavery International to commemorate the anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007. The exhibition consists of a large 'altarpiece' scale triptych with preparatory studies. These are set alongside artefacts of contemporary slavery from the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool and the extraordinary photos and text from Anti-Slavery International, which inspired this work. The painting tells the story of contemporary slavery. There are an estimated 12 million people in the world today who are still enslaved - even though the British slave trade was abolished 200 years ago.
The Cowper & Newton Museum is a very small, local museum managed by a charitable trust and staffed predominantly by volunteers. The museum is situated in Orchard House, the home of poet and author William Cowper between 1768 to 1786. Since it opened in 1900, the museum has focussed on telling the story of Cowper’s life in the thriving Georgian market town of Olney, Buckinghamshire. The museum also examines Cowper's relationship with his friend and neighbour, slave-trader turned ordained priest and abolitionist, Reverend John Newton.
The museum’s mission is for visitors to ‘relive Georgian life in Olney.’ Using items of personal collections relating to both of the museum’s namesakes, the displays bring the house to life in the form of period room settings combined with display cases and interpretive panels. Both Cowper and Newton published writings against the slave trade and corresponded with other abolitionists, including William Wilberforce. The displays provide some context on the slave trade before outlining Cowper and Newton’s involvement in abolition. This is represented through a range of objects including archive material, portraits and furniture both from the museum’s collection, and loaned pieces from Wilberforce House Museum, Hull.
As well as being a theme which runs throughout the whole museum, with Cowper’s ‘The Negro’s Complaint’ on display in the Georgian History Room for instance, there is one particular room on the first floor of the house which focuses predominantly on the slave trade and abolition. Like most of the museums analysed here, the interpretive panels in this display were created using funds made available for the bicentenary in 2007.