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.
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 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.
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.
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has over forty display galleries that explore the development of Birmingham as a city, through its diverse communities. Since opening in 1885, the museum has built a vast collection of social history, art, archaeology and ethnographic items. It is one of nine sites managed by Birmingham Museums, the largest museums trust in the UK, whose vision for their service is, ‘to reflect Birmingham to the world, and the world to Birmingham.’ Housed within Birmingham's council buildings in the city's Chamberlain Square, the site welcomes around one million visitors a year.
Slavery and abolition feature as themed displays within the ‘Birmingham: Its People and Its History’ gallery, which dominates the third floor of the Victorian museum. Initially developed as part of the 2007 bicentennial commemoration activities, the displays highlight the contradictory nature of Birmingham’s relationship with the slave trade. Visitors are informed, through both interpretive text panels and collections artifacts on display, about the goods manufactured in Birmingham that were taken to Africa to trade in exchange for human beings. Simultaneously, the presence of antislavery activists in the city is explained, with digital interactives, portraits and abolitionist material culture all illustrating the role of Quakers and other prominent abolitionist figures, including Joseph Sturge and Olaudah Equiano.
The displays also alert visitors as to the existence of modern slavery by a panel headed with the words, ‘Around the world, people are still enslaved today.’ The visitors are then invited to leave their own comments as to how society can help to stop it in their community and around the world.
The Wedgwood company's founder, Josiah Wedgwood I, had the initial idea for preserving and curating a historical collection in 1774. A public museum dedicated to this purpose first opened in 1906, and moved to its present site in 2008. In 2009 the museum won the Art Fund Prize for Museums and Galleries. It underwent further redevelopment in 2015/16. The museum's rich collection of ceramics and archive material tell the story of Josiah Wedgwood, his family, and the business he founded over two centuries ago.
The collections at the museum make up one of the most significant single factory accumulations in the world. They contain a range of things from ceramics, archive material and factory equipment, to social history items that help interpret life in Georgian Britain. Key themes explored throughout the galleries include Wedgwood's links to royalty, the influence of nature on his work and his position as a successful entrepreneur.
On display in the museum also are a small collection of objects which relate to Wedgwood's prominent role in the campaign to abolish the British Slave Trade. Here, the display focusses on the production of the well-known antislavery medallion, which bears the 'Am I Not a Man and a Brother?' image. It also highlights Wedgwood's connection to Olaudah Equiano and the influence of proslavery factions in British society during the eighteenth and nineteenth century.
M Shed opened in 2011 and is housed in a warehouse on Bristol’s dockside, a clear and tangible link to the history it interprets. The free-to-enter museum focuses on social history, exploring the development of Bristol as a city through people, places and daily life. It is a popular site, attaining over half a million visitors per year since 2013.
Through this local viewpoint, the museum explores Bristol’s involvement with the transatlantic slave trade and the abolition movement in its ‘Bristol People’ gallery which aims to ‘explore the activities past and present that make Bristol what it is.’ Voices from all factions of the slavery debate feature in the display, with proslavery, the enslaved, particularly those who fought for emancipation, and abolitionists all interpreted within dedicated cases. Each case contains a mix of objects, archive materials and text panels to tell the story. Quotations from key figures also bring to life the voices of those who were personally involved: for example, John Pinney, a plantation owner and sugar agent; Hannah More, a writer and Abolition campaigner; John Kimber, a slave ship captain accused (and acquitted) of murder; Silas Told, an ordinary sailor on slaving voyages. These Bristolian voices give different perspectives on how those involved in the trade saw it at the time. Quotations printed around the gallery also provide the views of today’s visitors to the trade. The exhibition also has sections about the legacies of the slave trade within Bristol, particularly in relation to the representation of African or Afro-Caribbean communities in popular culture, the presence of racism in the city, and the legacies of prominent slave owners in some of Bristol's public institutions.
The theme of antislavery also features as the starting point for a display on public protest movements. One case focusses on Thomas Clarkson’s visit to Bristol to collect information against the trade, another on the campaign to abstain from slave-produced sugar in the 18th century and the Bristol bus boycott against racist employment practices in the 20th century. This display then goes on to look at other popular campaigns and protest movements including women’s suffrage, riots, strikes and the Occupy movement. This perspective, situating the abolition campaign as the beginning of a British tradition of society campaigning, is a unique one across UK museums.
In the Bristol Life gallery, the stories of two Black Bristolians look at the new life for the runaway enslaved man, Henry Parker, and the Windrush generation Princess Campbell.
Built on the site of the Black settlement that Rev. Josiah Henson helped found in 1841, Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site preserves the settlement where Henson and his wife Nancy lived. The site is situated within 200 acres and was named after Harriet Beecher Stowe’s popular 1852 antislavery novel which featured an enslaved African man named Tom (based on Josiah Henson) as its protagonist. The area of land was purchased in 1841 to establish the Dawn Settlement - a refuge for the many fugitives from slavery who escaped to Canada from the USA. Today thousands of visitors travel to the site every year to learn and understand more about this history. The site includes a number of buildings which originally composed the British-American Institute, an all-ages teacher training and general education manual school. Present day visitors will find examples of a sawmill, smokehouse, and pioneer church, as well as the Henson family cemetery. The house where Josiah Henson and his wife Nancy lived has also been restored to 1850s period fashion. Also located on the site is the Josiah Henson Interpretive Centre which houses a collection of 19th century artefacts relating to the abolitionist era and to Henson himself. Highlights include a rare early edition of Henson’s autobiography and a signed portrait of Queen Victoria presented to him in 1877. Upon arrival at the Interpretive Centre, visitors are guided into the North Star Theatre where they are shown a film titled Father Henson: His Spirit Lives On. A further gallery named Underground Railroad Freedom Gallery displays a narrative of the history of African freedom seekers from initial capture in Africa and enslavement in the United States to freedom in Canada. The site also runs a variety of educational programmes aimed at children and young adults, alongside a popular programme of guided tours.