Exploring perceptions of Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum using Gale Primary Sources

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By Tiria Barnes
I am currently a third-year History student at the University of Liverpool, hoping to graduate with an extensive knowledge of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and good quality banter. When I’m not in the library plugging Gale’s amazing resources, I am usually in a hipster independent coffee shop sipping on a cheeky chai latte. Some of my passions include Jesus, street dance, and charity shops.

The International Slavery Museum, situated in Liverpool’s Albert Dock, explores the transatlantic slave trade and its permanent impact on our world. The museum opened in 2007, the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, and has welcomed more than 3.8 million visitors.[1] As suggested by the museum director, David Fleming, the museum does not claim to be a ‘neutral space’. Instead, it attempts to be an active voice in countering racism and promoting the equality of opportunities. The exhibit is also committed to expressing the bravery of the slaves, opposing the notion that they were merely victims.[2] I thought it would be interesting to explore articles written about the International Slavery Museum using Gale Primary Sources, to learn more about the different ways the museum has been perceived.

Urquhart, Cath. ‘No Domes here: Liverpool is showing how to regenerate a city in the right way’. Times, 21 April 2007, p. 2 [s2] http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5WZct7

An article found in the Times Digital Archive shows that the opening of the International Slavery Museum was viewed as being part of Liverpool’s exciting regeneration programme. For example, the author suggests that when visiting Liverpool, she was ‘taken by the taste and good sense of much of what is being planned’. She then moves on to discuss different projects taking place in Liverpool, one of which is the slavery museum. As such, while the museum’s purpose is fundamentally to educate people on the history of the transatlantic slave trade, it was also perceived to contribute to the renewal of Liverpool as a city.

Campbell-Johnston, Rachel. ‘Making sense of slavery’. Times, 22 August 2007, p. 12 http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5WZhT3

Another article found in the Times Digital Archive is a review of the International Slavery Museum, and highlights both its strengths and weaknesses. The author suggests that one of the successes of the museum is that it shows that ‘these people were not simply victims’, also suggesting that the exhibit fairly portrays the gravity of slave resistance.

On the other hand, the article stressed that it ‘seems more geared to school children who will be tempted to rush from one eye-catching exhibit to the next’. This suggests that an adult who wanted to understand the complexities of the slave trade would not be as satisfied with the museum. Additionally, the author also suggests that ‘there is precious little to explain the other side of the argument: to give a sense of the true intricacy of the African continent’s native culture’, as masks and tribal carvings are given only brief explanations.

Oduntan, Gbenga. ‘Diversity of slavery’. Times, 24 August 2007, p. 12 http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5WZjP7

A few days later, Gbenga Oduntan, an associate professor at the University of Kent, wrote to The Times in response to the ‘Making sense of slavery’ review (also found in The Times Digital Archive). He highlights the fact that the word ‘slave’ is too often associated with ‘the black man’. Moreover, he alludes to the fact that many others, such as the Romans, have also been slaves, and states that ‘if we are going to have an International Slavery Museum let it reflect all these realities’. As such, this suggests that the author calls for the museum to consider the vast range of slavery that has existed historically around the world.

While it is clear from these articles that the International Slavery Museum has engaged with its visitors in a variety of ways, both successfully and unsuccessfully, its determination to get people to ‘remember the strength and the bravery of the enslaved Africans’ [3] is something to be admired.

[1] ‘About’, accessed: 16/11/2017 <http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/about/index.aspx>
[2] ‘Opening of the International Slavery Museum’, accessed: 16/11/2017 <http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/resources/opening_speech.aspx>
[3] ‘Opening of the International Slavery Museum’, accessed: 16/11/2017 <http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/resources/opening_speech.aspx>