Position Which Museums Are In Cultural Studies Essay


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The contradictory, ambivalent position which museums are in makes them key cultural loci of our times. Through their displays and their day-to-day operations they inevitably raise questions about knowledge and power, about identity and difference, and about permanence and transience. (Macdonald, 1996, p. 2)

Museums are centers for learning and civic engagement as well as stewards of our artistic, historic, scientific, and cultural heritages. (Expanding Multicultural Discourse: Art Museums and Cultural Diversity by Jennifer Lynne Goodwin Willson)

'There is another way to define multiculturalism which I would call diversity where people have their own cultural beliefs and they happily coexist' (RUTH LEA

Director of the Centre for Policy Studies, a centre-right think tank)

The world we live in has been subjected to a lot of change during centuries, it became gradually a giant 'melting-pot' where different ethnic diversities are all gathered to only make one. The idea of a one and only mainstream culture has been forgotten, the world became a place where all cultures, ethnicities and every group of people of every 'race' 'colour' and background' are mixed-up together and respected. That phenomenon is known by the name of multiculturalism; according to the Academics' definitions, multiculturalism refer[s] to anything from people of different communities living alongside each other to ethnic or religious groups leading completely separate lives. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12381027). The Oxford English Dictionary reads about '"the policy or process whereby the distinctive identities of the cultural groups within such a society are maintained or supported". (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12381027). This has been a worldwide issue but a few countries were largely touched by it such is the case of the United Kingdom. 'For centuries people have settled in the UK, either through invasion, Britain's expansion into the world, to escape political or religious persecution or in search of better economic opportunities making the UK's record on multiculturalism second to none in Europe.( The history of multicultural Britain IT Project Team, New York,) It 'has welcomed newcomers for centuries. It is a mixture of diverse ethnic groups, each with their own distinct culture and sometimes their own language or religion.' (The United Kingdom - a Multicultural Society) Britain became a multicultural society after the famous event known by the name of the Atlantic slave trade or triangular trade, that happened in between three continents Africa, Europe and North-America during more than four centuries from the 16th through to the 19th centuries, (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantic_slave_trade) that forced millions of black African people to be deported from their country of origin to other continents. According to the latest figures and statistics given by the British Council, Black people represented 10.3 % of the United Kingdom's population, that is to say they represent quite a fair amount. (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/taxonomy/index.html?nscl=Population+Estimates+by+Ethnic+Group) The people involved in and bruised by this cruel traffic felt the need to develop and create exhibitions in museums through which objects and activities can share and convey the story of their past. Yet, setting up such displays helped ethnic minorities, such as black people from African and Caribbean descent here, to pass on their history but it also enables people of other origins' opinion and knowledge to be questioned. Although multiculturalism seems to be a well-established concept in the country still we can wonder if devoting/dedicating a museum to one and an only culture or ethnic group is not a wrong thing to do. Is a museum really integrated in the society of a country when relating the story of another population from different origins? What role does multiculturalism play in museum? This paper will tackle the repercussions multiculturalism has on museums, its benefits and negative aspects. The International Slavery Museum of Liverpool (United Kingdom) one of the reference of black history in England, will serve as an example to demonstrate those chs aracteristics.

By the end of the 17th until the 18th centuries 'the English became regular participants in the trade in African people' (http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/resources/amsterdam_conference.aspx), Liverpool was not only considered as one of the largest slave trade port of the traffic but also as the foundation of its economy and wealth. Playing a crucial role in the history, the northern city was the perfect place where a museum related to slavery had to be created. It first opened in 1987 under the name of Transatlantic Slavery gallery but few years later, a man by the name of Peter Moores suggested it should become an entire museum which display would be all about the transatlantic slavery and slave trade. According to a speech he gave, concerning his idea of the museum's development, slavery should not be a phenomenon, an event we must be ashamed of talking and debating about. According to him, "we can come to terms with our past only by accepting it, and in order to be able to accept it we need knowledge of what actually happened. We need to make sense of our history" (http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/resources/amsterdam_conference.aspx), the only manner this can be known and learned by every single person is to introduce it to the population in its whole representation, through images, displays and exhibitions in a museum. A museum and its belonging are a way to teach a lesson about the past. After all these years, this gallery became what is called the "International Slavery Museum" nowadays and it continues to attract a huge visitor numbers, it welcomed its millionth visitor. As its name suggests it, the museum brings not only English people but also the international attention to slavery history and helps the understanding of the impacts the trade had on the world. This latter possesses partnerships with institutes and organizations from all over the world such as "Anti-Slavery International", the "Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture or even the "UNESCO Slave Routes Project". Regionally also with all the Liverpool's institutes and nationally with the Commission for Equality and Human Rights but also the Heritage Lottery Fund. "The National Museums Liverpool was awarded a £1.5 million grant towards the museum from the Heritage Lottery Fund in September 2006". (http://portal.unesco.org/culture/en/ev.phpURL_ID=32266&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html)

The International Slavery Museum covers topics such as human rights, racial discrimination, national and cultural identities. "Some of the museum exhibits thrust the visitor directly into the cultures of West Africa, emphasizing that many slaves came from a proud heritage that continues to thrive. Its aim is to be an educational institution rather than primarily a repository of important artifacts." (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/22/arts/design/22slav.html) The aim of the Liverpudlian museum is to highlight the worldwide importance and the understanding of the transatlantic slavery, historically but also in contextually, and its enduring impact. The International Slavery Museum is not a traditional museum only dealing with signs of galleries and artifacts, this latter is about human beings, their emotions, their cultural and national identities.

"We considered that museums no longer look purely to collections for inspiration when relating histories - they now look much more to people, and to people's stories, and to ideas. We considered that museums have become more emotive, and even emotional, which means that they are better able to communicate ideas. We considered that museums are no longer mono cultural, concentrating on the histories of dominant social groups, of the privileged - they embrace the histories of minority or oppressed groups, oppressed and alienated and excluded because of their class, or their ethnicity, or their gender or their sexuality. Museums have begun to embrace the notion of "cultural diversity"". David Fleming (PDF pushing boundaries)

But what is the different roles museums play?

"So what is the role of museums in dealing with issues like slavery - are we just following an agenda of political correctness? I would argue not, though the subject is not without its political dimension, as I hope I have demonstrated. There are other considerations and I have mentioned a couple of them in the title, which I will develop in a short while. Our key role is to interpret and I would argue educate, in its widest sense. For this we need accurate information and good research. One of the important roles which we can adopt is to act as a bridge between academia and the general public. Slavery and related studies are a veritable industry in the academic world - there must be hundreds, if not thousands, of researchers producing articles and books, writing papers and attending seminars and conferences. The annual bibliographical supplement of Slavery and Abolition (the Journal of Slave and Post-slave Studies) for 1999 fills over 100 pages! The problem is that they are mostly talking to one another and the fruits of their work rarely percolate through to a wider audience. Museums can be a conduit and a successful one at that."

Museum as a forum:

By creating a place where the story of such a tragedy could be explained, this latter also enables a few other functions; for instance, it allows people to be involved with the slavery issue and to express their point of view. As the museum is only focusing on black history or on people coming from an African or black-originate background, it is interesting to include every person in it so that it can work as a sort of forum. The idea of forum connotes a meeting place where people from all horizons can come and gather in order to share their knowledge with others. It authorizes people, either the wealthiest, the ones from the middle or lower class, whoever they are to discuss their opinions and theirs thoughts about historical issues, art matters or everything that can recount the past of a historical period or great ideas of an era. Centuries ago and still even today, a person's opinion can be very different from one to another, let's examine the example of this event, that is to say the transatlantic slave trade, seen by white people. For them, the trade epoch is seen as cruelty towards black individuals but they are not aware of what happened in depths, they probably heard about it and learned a few things from it. If we take the case of black people, of course they will surely know more about the subject as they feel deeply concerned by this phenomenon but one thing is sure, even if they are not that familiar with the history, they will take it differently as white people would simply because they feel they belong to the ethnic minority that was hurt and so they feel close to this human abuse. (http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/resources/amsterdam_conference.aspx)

Museum as a multicultural premise:

"Because they collect items of cultural interest, museums are well positioned to disseminate and discuss culture" (Hein, 2000, 42)

Another feature that premises permit is an admixture of cultures such as the British and the Black ones here in Liverpool; in other words museums are institutions endowing what we call multiculturalism. First of all, as we said formerly, it is functioning as a forum which implies it helps to determine the point of views people deriving from different backgrounds possess about the artifacts, the collections and the facts exposed in it. These interactions between people from different origins help each and every one to listen to what the other say and even learn from what is told. To facilitate such multicultural exchanges, curators and staff members organize cultural activities that can be manual or physical so that people coming and entering on their own in the building, end up united and share their culture , their knowledge by working together. For instance, the ISM proposes sessions of arts and crafts such as Akindra decorations or creative workshops of African masks and Quilt pattern, suitable for families, which permit the discovery of the meaning and the importance of the African symbols; children can also make their own decoration to take them home. At the ISM, other events such as Capoeira lessons, a Brazilian martial art developed by enslaved Africans during the transatlantic trade, give people the opportunity to practice foreign customs. Those activities are a great and rewarding experience and to be a part of it is either a way to share once cultural heritage with others or to learn from others' habits and traditions. (Site ISM)

Museum as educative and memorialisation:

It is undeniable that museums enable several cultures and identities to be mixed-up altogether, the same as for people's thoughts but what are, first and foremost, the roles of an institution such as the International Slavery Museum? By narrating/relating the story of the slave trade centuries, the museum attempts to advocate black history across United Kingdom and plays a role of memorialization.

According to Anthony Tibbles: "There is a very clear desire to provide memorials to the slave trade and transatlantic slavery across the three continents. […] But how far do and should museums memorialise the slave trade and slavery? What are people's expectations of us in this regard? Our objective in Liverpool was clearly educational -in the words of our mission statement `to increase understanding' - but some have sought to place the demands of memory upon us."(http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/resources/representation_slavery_curacao.aspx)

"Museums have a vital place in a broad educational system that includes formal institutions such as universities, schools, and professional training institutes and informal agents of socialization such as the family, workplace, and community". (American Association of Museums [AAM], 1992, p.9)

In the three continents that participated to the transatlantic slave trade, that is to say America, Africa and Europe, a lot of exhibitions or traditions are set up in order to promote the African-American culture and history. Every year in England takes place the Black Month History in October, "a cultural celebration and remembrance for notable people and events in the history of the African diaspora". The role of this event is to "highlight the lengthy and important contribution that the Black community ha[s] made to British life over the centuries. From the dark days of slavery, through to mass immigration after the Second World War, to Black stars of the political, entertainment and sporting world in the present day, Black History Month will have something for you regardless of your background." (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/10/01/black-history-month-a-celebration-african-diaspora-britain_n_1928342.html) In other words, the African-American History Month stands for defining a national identity and preserves the community's cultural heritage. (PDF: Art Museums and the ritual of citizenship, Carol DUNCAN). The same happens when celebrating the Human Rights Day symbolizing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that "recognises all human beings to have equal worth and rights, such as access to basic resources". (SITE ISM)

"In 1945, Florian Crête, Curator of the Educational Museums for Deaf-Mutes in Montreal wrote that museums "have become a means par excellence of education"" (Jean Trudel Université de Montréal - L'intégration de la function educative au musée: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1494886?uid=3738016&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21101380563153) Indeed, museums and their materials can play another role that is one to act as an educational institution; they aim at educating children and grown-ups about the past of the country or the event it tackles. Visiting premises such as museums means discovering what this latter wishes to demonstrate, it can be either about art, architecture or history. The International Slavery Museum offers a diversity of educating activities, for instance schools and groups can participate to sessions or classes led by its education and communities team. Learning sessions run by staff members, are also available, which aim is to "promote an understanding of the transatlantic slavery and life in West Africa". (Site ISM)

The International Slavery Museum's collections activities and galleries also enable you to carry on with your learning even outside the building, at home, indeed documentation and research papers are available online. Some free resources are made available and can be lend to teachers in order to educate students and classrooms during lessons and lectures dealing about the slavery and slave trade topic (Key stage 2, 3 or 4).

If you wish to learn and study topics such as the Transatlantic Slavery or related to the slave trade you will have no choice but to go and visit a museum, admittedly you could do some research on your own but the result won't be the same, if you want to know in depths what this is about, you must visit a museum. These buildings are the only way to memoralise the event of African slave trade and Diasporas.

The main functions of a museum, and the International Slavery Museum is not spared, are to educate and play the role of memorialization of the past, without him the history and the past would be forgotten and unknown from every one, we couldn't even talk or debate about it if such institutions as museums did not exist.

Museum as keeper of the national identity :

The last role a museum has is he acts as a keeper of national identity. Centuries ago, when African-American slaves arrived in England, the country already had its own culture and customs, however the situation did not allow black people to assert themselves neither politically nor culturally. When the slave trade's tragedy is finally over, the black community hopes to raise the awareness of people all around the world through exhibitions, stories and galleries that would narrate the importance of the transatlantic slavery and history of black people communities. All the materials and displays' application/implementation of the International Slavery Museum were fitted-out in such a way as to look back on/recall what slaves of Africa endured, what became of them since the end of the trade and what define their national identities. The museum "is made up of four galleries: Life in West Africa, Enslavement and the Middle Passage, Legacies [of Slavery] and the Campaign Zone." (A different perspective: Developing collections at the International Slavery Museum - Angela Robinson) The "Life in West Africa" part consists in retracing and describing the African culture already developed years before the continent was invaded by Europeans. The gallery of this section enables visitors to be immersed in/bury themselves in the African customs and habits; for example they can discover a recreation of what is called the Igbo compound, culture centered about family relationships, but also artifacts such as masks, sculptures and music instruments. Its aim is to get people to have a proper representation of the African culture and identity. With its "Enslavement and Middle Passage" part, the International Slavery Museum counts the story of the African slaves deported by boat to America working in sugar, coffee, cotton plantations and victims of the triangular slave trade. Its third section called "Legacies of Slavery", the gallery points out the different issues black skinned population faced during the transatlantic slave and persisted throughout time until today in our actual society; racism and discrimination. But that is not all; the Liverpudlian museum possesses "The Black Achievers Wall", a celebration of Black Achievers past and present, belonging to the Legacy section. "These people [Black Achievers] represent a real mix of backgrounds, eras and disciplines, from civil rights campaigners and politicians to rock stars and poets." (Site ISM). Other features of the museum such as the "Freedom and Enslavement Wall" and the "Freedom Sculpture" are a mean of representing as the term suggests it in their titles, the notion of freedom and enslavement. "The sculpture was commissioned by international development charity Christian Aid and National Museums Liverpool to mark 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007." (Site ISM)

The International Slavery Museum is not the only one dealing with the topic of the African transatlantic slave trade and slavery, the Museum of Docklands in London is one of them. The Docklands is a part of the Museum of London regrouping two others museums "Museum of London" and the "MOLA". Considered as one of the principal museum relating the African slave trade and compared to the Liverpudlian museum, this latter is by far less developed and extended than the International Slavery Museum. The topic is the same, the roles too but something is different. First of all, what is different is that the Docklands is not based only on the African Diaspora and triangular trade, a lot of exhibitions are displayed in this building and "London, Sugar and Slavery", the one that interests us, is the one which has the most important reputation.

Museum not as a forum:

The London Docklands appears really different from the former museum we studied and dealt with. As we said formerly, the International Slavery Museum is more of a forum as it enables people to share their knowledge, culture and point of views whereas this one is more of a building that attempts to educate and share what it knows from the stories and objects it displays rather than let people share their feelings and opinions. Situated in London that is to say capital of the United Kingdom and big melting pot which society is multicultural, it should be an advantage and people from every horizon could share their knowledge, but it is not the case. Here people are only present to learn from the exhibition but unfortunately not to interact in debates, activities or other events. It is as if, the "London, Sugar and Slavery" wants to glorify the history of the African slave trade and nothing else. Contrary to other museums, the London Docklands doesn't seem to be that specialized on the slave trade of Africa it is rather more focused on the city of London and the role it played during history. If a museum is not working as a museum it could be as a temple, even if what is happening here does not correspond fully to the definition it has basically, that is to say related to religious purposes, there is no other term to qualify it. This museum is based only on the pride London and the black people emanate, it shows the City of London as if it was the main point of the history of the slave trade, yes it was important but not as important as some other places, ports and continents. London is only taking here the benefit it makes to itself.

As it is mentioned in its description, the "Museum in Docklands' new gallery, London, Sugar & Slavery, reveals how London's involvement in slavery has shaped the capital since the 17th century" (Site Museum of Docklands)., that is to say of course it tells the story of the African diaspora but the main point and the focalization is more on the role London played and how African originate people fitted into its society in the end. The museum's gallery is divided into several zones; one is about a 'thought-provoking and moving video made by the young film-maker Stephen Rudder, which is intended to emphasise how London, West Africa and the Caribbean - the three points of the Triangle Trade - are linked as a result of London's slave trade. The video reinforces one of the gallery's key messages that we all belong to this history - it is not solely 'black history', it is London's history." (Site Museum of Docklands) Another attempt to remind the existence of the Black Community in London. Everything exposed in here is a mean to show that London was omnipresent in the slave trade history.

Concerning the involvement of the community, again it is different from what we have seen formerly with the International Slavery Museum. The museum does not permit people to share their knowledge and to discuss the issues of the slave trade during some activities, the only event open to public are mostly reserved to local members, staff members or curators, researchers studying the case of the African Diaspora. There is no real interaction between the museum and its visitors apart from its exhibitions or displays that are available to the public the rest is strictly reserved to privileged members, the public can't really contribute to the museum. Visitors come to something that is already established and their opinions do not matter, everything is already set up and suggestions are not taken into account.


It is the only museum of its kind to look at aspects of historical and contemporary slavery as well as being an international hub for resources on human rights issues.

New displays incorporate the latest historical research but also cover wider issues of the legacy of transatlantic slavery, and its contemporary relevance. Topics such as freedom and identity, social justice and human rights, underdevelopment in Africa and the Caribbean, racial discrimination and injustice and the transformation of British and other cultures are covered.

Our vision for the museum:

Our vision is to create a major new International Slavery Museum to promote the understanding of transatlantic slavery and its enduring impact.

Our aim is to address ignorance and misunderstanding by looking at the deep and permanent impact of slavery and the slave trade on Africa, South America, the USA, the Caribbean and Western Europe. Thus we will increase our understanding of the world around us." Dr David Fleming OBE, director, National Museums Liverpool

"I often refer to the International Slavery Museum as the Museum as Freedom Fighter - a socially responsible museum which takes an ideological stance, and which campaigns actively against human rights abuses. This is not a museum that takes the traditional museum neutral stance to issues of cultural diversity. The Museum is about people, not objects, and people are about identity and emotions, not things." + "We considered that museums no longer look purely to collections for inspiration when relating histories - they now look much more to people, and to people's stories, and to ideas. We considered that museums have become more emotive, and even emotional, which means that they are better able to communicate ideas. We considered that museums are no longer monocultural, concentrating on the histories of dominant social groups, of the privileged - they embrace the histories of minority or oppressed groups, oppressed and alienated and excluded because of their class, or their ethnicity, or their gender or their sexuality. Museums have begun to embrace the notion of "cultural diversity". We reminded ourselves that not all is well in the world of museums. The forces of reaction are strong and deeply engrained in their resistance to any challenges to the existing order, an order that demands that museums should be neutral in their outlook and interpretation, as though such a thing is possible, let alone desirable. We have to remember that the museum world remains one where all sorts of outmoded ideas live on. Those who, for example, revere museums as unique and special purely because they look after collections of objects, rather than because they are also places where ideas can be explored, stories told, and emotions expressed, may struggle with the idea of museums joining in the fight for human rights, respect and equality." (PDF pushing boundaries)

Making the vision a reality

The International Slavery Museum highlights the international importance of slavery, both in a historic and contemporary context. Working in partnership with other museums with a focus on freedom and enslavement, the museum provides opportunities for greater awareness and understanding of the legacy of slavery today.

 The role of museums

"So what is the role of museums in dealing with issues like slavery - are we just following an agenda of political correctness? I would argue not, though the subject is not without its political dimension, as I hope I have demonstrated. There are other considerations and I have mentioned a couple of them in the title, which I will develop in a short while. Our key role is to interpret and I would argue educate, in its widest sense. For this we need accurate information and good research. One of the important roles which we can adopt is to act as a bridge between academia and the general public. Slavery and related studies are a veritable industry in the academic world - there must be hundreds, if not thousands, of researchers producing articles and books, writing papers and attending seminars and conferences. The annual bibliographical supplement of Slavery and Abolition (the Journal of Slave and Post-slave Studies) for 1999 fills over 100 pages! The problem is that they are mostly talking to one another and the fruits of their work rarely percolate through to a wider audience. Museums can be a conduit and a successful one at that."


"I've already referred to our involvement in International Slavery Day and the British Government's working group on the remembrance of slavery. There is a very clear desire to provide memorials to the slave trade and transatlantic slavery across the three continents. At its most ambitious there is a proposal to erect a huge, multi-million dollar memorial and visitor attraction in Dakar in Senegal, on the corniche, the cliffs overlooking Gorée. Or there are the plans of the Washington based Middle Passage Foundation to build 100 ft memorials in six locations around the Atlantic. They have already placed a memorial on the ocean floor off the North American coast.

But how far do and should museums memorialise the slave trade and slavery? What are people's expectations of us in this regard? Our objective in Liverpool was clearly educational -in the words of our mission statement `to increase understanding' - but some have sought to place the demands of memory upon us. In his book on the visual representations of slavery Blind Memory, Marcus Wood writes in his concluding chapter `this gallery should occupy a central space in our cultural memory.' He takes us to task for not doing so."

- "Alan Rice argues that "their primary [museums] need to narrate a history and to purvey information vitiates against such a function. Museums play a large part in fighting amnesia but this does not mean they are prime sites for memorialisation."

We should also recognise that, as things stand at the moment, there is really nowhere else to go if one wants to remember the slave trade and slavery other than museums and the places where slaves lived and worked.

- "Toni Morrison sums this up: "There is no place you or I can go, to think about, or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves; nothing that reminds us of the ones who made the journey and of those who did not make it. There is no suitable memorial or plaque or wreath or wall or park or skyscraper lobby." By default we have some element of memorialisation thrust upon us and that is likely to remain the situation until other forms emerge. We thus need to be sensitive to visitors' needs in this respect and recognise this as another element in a complex and complicated scenario."

• Igbo family compound: Visitors enter the 'Life in West Africa' section of the museum through a decorative portal befitting a titled Igbo elder to face one of the highlights of this gallery - the recreation of part of an Igbo family compound.

- Igbo domestic architecture: The family unit is still very important in Igbo culture in Africa and this is expressed in the architecture of the compound. The most important was the obi, or meeting house. This was the symbolic centre of the compound, where the head of the family kept his personal altars and where he entertained his guests. Other houses were used by the man's wives and children.

- The Igbo compound at the International Slavery Museum: The recreation of the family compound includes part of a titled man's meeting house (obi) and a woman's house. The meeting house has a decorative wooden door and a carved wooden panel that screens a shrine within. The houses are partially thatched using traditional palm frond panels made in southeast Nigeria. All of the carved wooden items and furnishings fo the compound were made by craftspeople in south eastern Nigeria in 2007. Much of the wall area of the compound is decorated with bold and colourful designs traditionally painted by Igbo women for special occasions.

• The Black Achievers Wall

The Black Achievers Wall in the Legacy gallery at the International Slavery Museum is a celebration of Black Achievers past and present. These people represent a real mix of backgrounds, eras and disciplines, from civil rights campaigners and politicians to rock stars and poets. Some are household names like Bob Marley. Others, like rebel slave leader Gaspar Yanga, are virtually unknown to the general public, but all are inspirational. However, this list is not static, and we want both website and museum visitors to tell us who they think should join the list. Do you think we are missing someone important, or is there an emerging talent you think we should recognise? In collaboration with the Independent we are asking you to send us your suggestions. Remember that your suggestion can come from any era and any background - they could be a sports person, a writer, an activist, a television personality - anyone just as long as they are inspirational.

Send us your suggestions

Please email the International Slavery Museum with the name of anybody who you feel deserves to be added to the wall, with your reasons for suggesting them. If you need inspiration, on the Independent's website you can read an article by playwright by Kwame Kwei-Armah about the museum and some of the people who have already made it onto the Black Achievers Wall.

• At home you can follow the story of four Africans as they are taken and sold into slavery in our online feature Slaves' stories. (http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/slavery/slave-stories/index.aspx)

• Schools and groups: The International Slavery Museum offers a range of activities, sessions and resources for education and community groups of all ages. These are run by our Education and Communities team.

- Learning sessions: Learning sessions are free of charge and usually link to the national curriculum through our collections and displays. Many sessions are led by a member of our team, while some are self-led. Booking well in advance is advised. The museum runs popular handling sessions that promote an understanding of transatlantic slavery and life in West Africa from key stage 2. Activities that explore African heritage through arts, crafts, storytelling and music are available from Early Years. New for Autumn 2012, there will be a session specifically about Liverpool's connections with slavery, suitable for those in year 9 and above.

- Classroom teaching resources: Contemporary slavery teachers' resource for teaching of students, aged 10-14, in particular for teaching Citizenship in key stage 2 and 3

History of transatlantic slave trade and abolition teaching resource (pdf) for teaching key stage 2 upwards. Slaves' stories - four stories of individuals enslaved in transatlantic slavery

'Unlocking perceptions' and 'Citizen resource' are two useful resources available from Understanding Slavery, a free online resource for teachers and educators planning lessons on the transatlantic slave trade for key stage 3 and 4 pupils. It features collections from National Museums Liverpool and other major UK museum partners.

• Centre for the Study of International Slavery seminar

• Celebrate Human Rights Day: 64 years ago on 10 December 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created by the General Assembly of the United Nations. The Declaration recognises all human beings to have equal worth and rights, such as access to basic resources. Yet, many people in the world are denied their rights. Please support Human Rights and come along to an afternoon of activities; Film screening; The Cost of Living, Pete Pattison, Badge making, Postcard making; Keep Calm & Support Human Rights

 Galleries and displays

The International Slavery Museum has three main galleries on the following themes:

• Life in West Africa

The first main section in the International Slavery Museum, 'Life in West Africa', introduces the continent as the birthplace of human culture and civilisations. This gallery shows something of African cultural achievements before the arrival of Europeans and the start of the transatlantic slave trade. The objects on display in this gallery include African art forms that have had a global cultural influence, such as musical instruments, masks and sculpted figures. There is also a recreation of part of a traditional Igbo family compound.

• Enslavement and the Middle Passage

Enslavement and the Middle Passage, the second gallery in the International Slavery Museum, looks at how enslaved Africans were taken to work on plantations in the Americas. It includes sections on the economics of slavery; life in the Americas and a walk-in audiovisual display about the Middle Passage. The Middle Passage was the second leg of the triangular slave trade route. It involved a horrific eight to ten week journey across the Atlantic in cramped and disgusting conditions on slave ships. Many of the enslaved Africans died of disease and many made the ultimate sacrifice and took their own lives. African men, women and children were treated like animals by European crews and on arrival in the Americas were equally inhumanely treated. The central interactive in this gallery features a two minute recreation of that journey. Please be warned that it includes graphic scenes of life on board a slave ship.

Another large feature of this gallery is a model featuring scenes from a St Kitts sugar plantation in about 1800.

• Legacies of slavery

The Legacy gallery features reminders of the racism and discrimination faced by the Black population even after the abolition of the slave trade, as well as examples of how the unquenchable spirit of people of African descent has helped to shape the society and cultures of the Americas and Europe.

Four centuries of revolts and revolution are examined on the Fight for Freedom and Equality wall. The story is brought up to date with a film showing prominent 20th century Black leaders and movements, such as Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights movement and the rise of the Black Panther Party.

At the Music Desk you can listen to more than 300 songs from many different genres which are influenced by African music, such as jazz, the blues and Mersey Beat music from Liverpool.

Inspirational members of the African Diaspora are celebrated on the Black Achievers Wall in the gallery. Among the famous faces on the wall are Olympic gold medallist Kelly Holmes, Martin Luther King Jr, Muhammad Ali, Oprah Winfrey and the forgotten heroine of the Crimean War, Mary Seacole. Over a period of time we will be adding new pictures to the wall. If you would like to nominate a Black achiever for inclusion on the wall you can email the International Slavery Museum.

 Other features:

• Freedom and Enslavement Wall : At the entrance to the International Slavery Museum is the Freedom and Enslavement Wall. Television screens set into the wall show interviews with a range of people discussing their ideas of freedom and enslavement, from community historians to politicians, schoolchildren, and even people who have themselves been enslaved.

Together they provide a powerful, thought provoking introduction to the themes of the museum.

• Freedom! Sculpture: This original sculpture by a group of Haitian artists represents their continuing struggle for freedom and human rights. The sculpture was commissioned by international development charity Christian Aid and National Museums Liverpool to mark 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007. The Freedom! sculpture, made out of recycled objects such as metal car parts and raw junk found in the dangerous slums of the capital, Port-au-Prince, was created by young Haitians and sculptors Eugène, Céleur and Guyodo from Atis Rezistans in collaboration with Mario Benjamin, an internationally renowned Haitian artist who has represented his country at Biennials in Venice, São Paulo and Johannesburg.

Museum of London Docklands - Slavery and Sugar

Uncover London's long history as a port through stories of trade, migration and commerce.

London, Sugar & Slavery

Visit the permanent exhibition that examines London's involvement in transatlantic slavery in our thought-provoking gallery, London, Sugar & Slavery. In the setting of this historic sugar warehouse, challenge long-held beliefs that abolition was initiated by politicians and be touched by the real objects, personal stories and vibrant art and music that have left their legacy on the capital today.

- Museum in Docklands' new gallery, London, Sugar & Slavery, reveals how London's involvement in slavery has shaped the capital since the 17th century, and challenges what you think you know about the transatlantic slave trade.

 Gallery

• Zone 1: As you enter the gallery, begin your visit by watching a thought-provoking and moving video made by the young film-maker Stephen Rudder, which is intended to emphasise how London, West Africa and the Caribbean - the three points of the Triangle Trade - are linked as a result of London's slave trade. The video reinforces one of the gallery's key messages that we all belong to this history - it is not solely 'black history', it is London's history.

As a prelude to the introduction of the slave trade, the gallery considers Africa as it was known in the 17th and 18th centuries. Here you can see beautifully crafted metal work from West Africa which refutes the claim that Africa had no culture, history or sophistication.

Further along you can explore the operation of the Triangle Trade. Examine beads produced for purchasing Africans which are displayed along with original documents recording the shipment of enslaved people into the Caribbean, and the loading of plantation produce onto the same ships for delivery to London.

In this part of the gallery use our computer terminal to explore sites in modern London that were connected to slavery and the Abolition campaigns to really understand the impact of the slave trade on the capital.

• Zone 2: This section of the gallery finishes by inviting you to consider how both slavery and abolition contributed to Imperialist ideas in the 19th century.

• Zone 3: The final zone focuses on London and the legacy of slavery.

A series of images remind you of the existence of the African community in London in the 19th century and a striking photograph, discovered in the admissions papers of a London Asylum, illustrate that a vital segment of London's social history has yet to be revealed to us - the story of African-Londoners in the 19th century.

A selection of music song-sheets, advertisements and selected objects such as china figurines invite you to consider the various ways that African people have been portrayed in Britain. From the bizarre racism of television's 'Black and White Minstrel Show' to the beautifully crafted bowl of a clay pipe moulded as a portrait of an African man.

The gallery moves on to explore the experience of the African community in London in the second half of the 20th century through video interviews and photographs.

Finally, end your visit by studying two magnificent portraits that are displayed side by side in the gallery. The first is an early 19th century portrait commissioned by the West India Dock Company to celebrate the appointment of its first Chairman, the slave owner George Hibbert; the second, a modern day response to that painting by the artist Paul Howard, is a portrait of the revolutionary and abolitionist, Robert Wedderburn.

As you leave London, Sugar & Slavery we hope that the sights and sounds you have experienced in this gallery will have challenged you to think about the legacy of the slave trade on London and how our capital has become the diverse, successful and exciting city it is today.

 Community involvement

• The price of sweetness (slavery's symbol): Members of the local community have recently been invited to reinterpret this design and the results are displayed transferred onto sugar bowls and displayed in the gallery.

• Crossing the seas: In 2004, as part of its Health through History**programme, THACMHO (Tower Hamlets African Caribbean Mental Health Organisation) organised a reminiscence conference at Museum in Docklands, bringing together retired African Caribbean seamen and English dockers to share memories of sailing and of the West India Docks.

A conference report stressed the need to collect and disseminate the stories of these seamen and resulted in an education pack, 'Sailors of the Caribbean'. THACMHO and Museum in Docklands are now collaborating on a new phase of the project.

Former seamen and their families will be interviewed about their experiences and their stories featured in a touch screen interactive in the gallery called 'Crossing the Seas Again'. The material will be available not just in the gallery but in many creative formats such as on a DVD/CD-ROM for use with school groups. It will also be available in the Museum's study centre for use by the public.

• What does 2007 mean to you?

2007 is the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. This has given us all an opportunity to reflect on the horrors of the trade and the legacy that is still part of all our lives today. Groups of 20 participants will take part in a project called 'What does 2007 mean to you' every year for at least the next three years. This year's participants were asked to interview members of the public, academics, friends and family and to ask them why they feel that this date and the commemorations are important. The participants were given training in journalism and photography and extracts from the interviews are displayed throughout the gallery next to photographs of the interviewees.



What role do museum collections play in defining national identity?

Concerning the roles art museums and their collections have, to sum up what I understood I would say they aim at defining what a national identity is and at helping people to discover and learn their history, their past and their culture. From the beginning the art museums were created and used as a sort of representation of political virtue that tempted to make people aware that their government, state, community and so on. tried to educate and make them learn about art and also history. When museums and their collections were developed in the whole world, they were seen as a mean of political propaganda and also as a sign of national identity. To talk about the museum's collections more precisely, I would say it can be a pride and a sign of power.


Art museums as ceremonial monuments: the main goal is "to emphasize the museum experience as a monumental creation in its own right, a cultural artifact that what we used to understand as 'museum architecture'. Museum is not neutral and transparent sheltering space that is claimed to be. The museum is a complex experience involving architecture, programmed displays of arts objects and highly rationalized installation practices.

Just as ceremonial structures of the past, by fulfilling its declared purposes as a museum (preserving and displaying art objects) it also carries out broad, sometimes less obvious political and ideological tasks.

Art museums are seen as a "whole into a civic body", because of the branches of scientific and humanistic knowledge practiced in them, conservation, art history, archaeology, but also because of their status as preservers of the community's cultural heritage.

What the museum presents as the community's history, beliefs and identity may represent only the interests and self-image of certain powers within the community.


Museum can be seen as a sort of ceremonial site dedicated to the accumulation and display of treasures that existed years or even centuries before. Before, public art museums would appropriate, develop and transform the central function of the princely gallery. This type of public institutions made and still make the state look good.

The art museum gives citizenship and civic virtue a content without having to redistribute real power.

To control a museum means precisely to control the represnrtation of a community and some of its highest, most authoritative truths. It also means the power to define and rank people, to declare some as having a greater share than others in the community's comme heritage, in its very identity.

What is the cultural/ideological/political importance of "Great Artists," and how are they chosen?

Names, portraits or features belonging to the artists included in what were called "the Great Artists" were a way for them to be present even when away from the museum. With the Great Artists, "the state could demonstrate the highest kind of civic virtue", that means not only collections in art museums were a pride and a sign of power but Great artists too. The latter were demanded and were then the ones chosen to paint the portraits of Princes and the other important people of the time so, in other words they were important trusted persons.

The iconography centered on artists, ceiling after ceiling at the Musée Charles X celebrated great patrons princes etc but famous artists were abundantly present, their names or portraits, arranged into schools, decorating the entablatures. Ever greater expanses of overhead space would be devoted to them as the century wore on. It should be obvious that the demand for Great Artists, once the type was developed as a historical category, was enormous- they were after all, the means by which, on the one hand, the state could demonstrate the highest kind of civic virtue and on the other, citizens could know themselves to be civilized. Not surprisingly, quantities of Great artists were duly discovered and furnished with properly archetypal biographies by the burgeoning discipline of art history. We should also recall that artists such as Ingres and Delacroix were very aware of themselves as candidates for the category of Great Artist so lavishly celebrated on the museum's ceiling, and plotted their careers accordingly. This situation continues today in the institution of the giant retrospective. A voracious demand for Great Artists, living or dead is obligingly supplied by legions of art historians and curators trained for just this purpose. Inevitably some of the Great Artists recruited for this purpose- especially pre modern masters- fill out the role of museum art star with less success than others. Even so, a faire or just good Great Artist is still a serviceable item in today's museum business.

Comment on the different types of methods/systems of approach discussed in this article (e.g., a narrative leading from antiquity to national school). Your comments may reflect your personal opinion and experience or they may be more theoretical.


Question 1:

First I'd like to point out the sarcastic tone Hughes is using throughout his article "How The West Was Spun" and you can feel it by the way he is talking ("the funniest ever seen in a museum" "the large and deeply interesting show") and by the terms he uses, he seems to describe this painting and the exhibition as if it was nothing more but "a show" as he repeats it several times, that is to say something that is not a hundred percent real. Also, we can notice he speaks of "staging" and "editing" words that convey it is even more not something reliable but as if it was made up. Then from what I understood, Hughes wants people to be aware that artists whatever kind of artists they are, can represent an event or facts according to what they think and what they know, in other words they represent it their own way. This is a problem of subjectivity. What is wrong with that is it can be seen and perceived differently by other people as opinions and thoughts are specific to each person. If a person comes from a culture and another person from another culture, what they will think is usually going to differ. For example the painting here is seeing in a certain manner by American, what they seem to see is not right, for them it is a sort of fantasy. By that he tries to make us understand that art can manipulate people's mind and we have to be careful about the messages art gives us.

Question 2:

Well first of all, Hughes refers to the essays William H. Truettner's wrote as "the best two catalogue essays", further he even writes they are "especially good". Hughes seems to agree with what Truettner said, indeed he mentions the fact Truettner used the themes and ideas that were adequate to the context and the even the wrote about. But regarding what Truettner says about Leutze's assessment, I would say Hughes does not agree, he thinks it is not about "a celebration of Christian virtue conquering Aztec barbarism" but more or less the contrary, something Truettner did not understand fully, something deeper and more important if you take a look at the symbols used in the painting.

Question 3:

I would say I agree but disagree at the same time with Hugues. I agree with Hughes and his opinion about Leutze's painting. As he said, I also believe the Spanish conquistadors are represented as "brutes", they are painted in a certain way that conveys a feeling of violence, almost every one of them is fighting against someone else and holding an object that can be used as a weapon to hit or even kill the others. They seem to be superior and winning over the others. But I disagree with him when he writes "Even mediocre artists like Leutze, it seems, can sometimes be a little more complex than their interpreters might wish". According to me, he is not fair towards Leutze and this sentence makes me believe he sees himself as if he was the one who knows the right answer, the right form of interpretation and that is exactly the contrary of what he argued at the beginning of his article. He stated every person, artists and so on, has his/her own personal view and opinions, of course it can be a problem sometimes as it changes the way some people judge what they see but you can't decide if something is wrong or right simply because it depends of what the person thinks.


L'histoire est une foutaise, les standards sont condamnés par le sénat à 99 votes contre 1. Les standards sont considérés selon le sénateur Gorton de Washington, comme des documents a caractère pervers et contenant de la propagande mal finie anti ouest et anti américaine. Le sénat maintenant fait partie de ceux qui sont de droite et sont reliés aux standards. De la manière dont cela a été voté, et le fait que les 100 sénateurs ait dit oui, cela montre que les pères fondateurs et les gens d'origine blanche sont les fondateurs de l'Amérique en tant que mélange de différentes origines et cultures. Deux des trois nations existaient déjà bien avant. Aucune nation du monde n'apprend à ces enfants une histoire négative, on ne tente pas de leur enseigner une histoire aseptique/stérile mais on ne peut non plus leur en montrer une voilée et négative de l'Amérique et de l'ouest. Comment ces standards deviennent/sont-ils d'autant mauvaise influence ? Les historiens et les politiciens de tous bords et ceux qui n'appartiennent à aucun ont pris part à des discussions mais ceux qui détiennent le contrôle et établissent les exemples sont les académiciens qui possèdent tous les savoir nécessaires. Earl Bell déteste que la guerre froide soit vue dans les standards comme un clash qui n'est parti de rien et ne servait à rien. C'était seulement une querelle entre quelques nations impérialistes égales. LEO EST CONTRE CES STANDARDS ET LES IDEES FAUSSES QU'ILS PARTAGENT.

Well right from the beginning with its title "History Standards are bunk" I think it's quite clear the reader already knows what the author's opinion is going to be. The vocabulary such as "a funny thing" " this mess" and the tone John Leo uses give me the impression he wants to convince people that standards manipulates history and people's point of views. The fact his opinion is shared by an institution such as the Senate makes him appear even more convincing, indeed Washington Senator Slade Gorton defines them as "perverse documents loaded up with crude anti-Western and anti-American propaganda" words used for criticism. According to Leo, people should not be "fooled" by what is written about America and its history, those standards, 'this mess" that needs "to be junked" does not give the right impression about the country and people should not believe what is said. John Leo is trying to make people realize that history standards and what is written can be easily distorted, to prove his point he refers to Gary Nash and Charlotte Crabtree, historians who wanted to re-write the standards and gave a wrong image or impression of America's history in schools. Their aim was to depict "America not only [as] a western-based nation but the result of three cultures (Indian, black and European) converging" and to introduce a notion of multiculturalism. To show standards and history can be perceived in the wrong way or distorted as said before, he also refers to the case of slavery; Senator Lieberman noticed 'slavery is only mentioned twice, and both times as practices of white-cultures" in the World History Standards, but this is not exactly true as it existed in Greece and during the Atlantic slave trade. John Leo has given a lot of arguments to show his readers history and what is written can be wrongly interpreted.

To finish I'd like to give my opinion about this text. As some other students I found it quite hard to understand at first and I had to study everything in detail as I didn't want to misunderstand it. I would say I agree but disagree at the same time with Leo's point of view; yes people have to be proud of their own country and history can't be changed, history is your past and you have to know, to learn what happened to your ancestors and your nation so history standards can't be modified even if it is a matter only to please the population. But on the other hand, even if some events do not make you proud of your country and you do not want to remember it, well you do not have any choice, your country or nation's history is your past you cannot just erase it and pretend it never happened because you do not agree with it or you are not proud. History standards should not be affected by people's judgments; it should be told and written just as it happened even if people agree with it or note.


Of course, I couldn't begin to summarize what I've understood about the text and my opinion without saying that this text seem very similar to John Leo's "History Standards are Bunk" to me. In this text I would say Schlesinger's main idea is to show there is a need to re-write history but objectivity is the problem. Indeed, historians can be as good as they can and rely on whatever sources that seem reliable to them, objectivity is always going to play a role in the writing process of history. Even if they try to be as objective as possible it is barely impossible to find because as Smith argued, perfect objectivity was and stays unattainable, but it should remain the historian's goal. Another problem that has to be taken into account that Emmerson demonstrate is that the historians' cultural background is always going to affect their judgments. Something similar happens with the context, it will always create a difference, even unconsciously, the period and the context the person belong to will alter their perception. Ralph Barton Perry's idea of "the egocentric predicament" - "we bring to history the preconceptions of our personality and the preoccupations of our age that we can't shuffle off the mortal coil and seize on ultimate and absolute truth" - and William James' one "purely objective truth doesn't exist" illustrate well and also the fact one can try to report the past as good as they can, the truth cannot be found. Historians not only try to be as objective as possible to convey his idea but also to make people agree with his point of view, they "now claim objectivity not as individuals but as community" however again collective judgments are subject to changes, knowledge is evolving and objectivity cannot be attainable. Context shapes the way you see the past. The problem of context is even more complicated in America with the notion of multiculturalism, country divided between different ethnic groups who want to promote their own culture which mean several contexts included in the main one that is the American. Instead of having only one history, this latter is separated and according to Schlesinger multiculturalism and ethnic histories have to be studied as it can help us knowing the different point of views about history (ex: Columbus' arrival seen by those who accompanied him and those who were sent by him). Multiculturalism as "emotional therapy" that is to say just to inform about the events that happened to your ethnicity or your group isn't what should be taught at school otherwise you'd feel more like one of them and not properly as American, but it should be taught more as an intellectual discipline. But why do we have to renew history? As it isn't completely true and facts from the past couldn't prove its reliability, today it bases itself on the new contemporary discoveries and tries to be more complete.


The Colonial Williamsburg was at first only centred on white people's history, however later on ideas of multiculturalism and pluralism have been developed and those terms meant the "other-half', African-American people who were half of the population centuries ago, and their history needed to be displayed in the museum. Following that 'the all- black D

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