In local towns, regional capitals and institutions, museums have responded to the bicentenary in a variety of ways. Understanding these diverse responses involves the study of both the content and the processes which organised these displays. This enables a means of assessing the implications of portraying the past in particular ways to the public. Through the study of exhibitions and interviews with curators the means of commemoration can be comprehended.
Whilst many of the museums and galleries in Britain have responded to the bicentenary, a number of alternative histories are presented. The exhibition 'Bombay Africans' at the Royal Geographical Society, London, fulfils this role by displaying an alternative, undiscovered history in its exploration of the roles of the African men and women who helped in the British and European mapping of the African continent.
The appearance of the abolitionist poster the Brookes in various museum displays and exhibitions in a multitude of forms throughout the bicentenary has affirmed the prominent place this eighteenth century image still possess over contemporary society. The Brookes as a symbol for the history and legacy of the slave trade will be explored in this article as a means to create a deeper understanding of the message and meaning of the image for audiences.
Whilst the complicity and association of British merchants and British ships in the transatlantic slave trade has received attention in many of the museum exhibitions around Britain, the role of the Royal Navy in suppressing the slave trade after its abolition by Parliament is only fleetingly referred to. The exhibition Chasing Freedom at the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, reveals the dangerous work undertaken by the Royal Navy in anti-slavery patrols along the coast of the African continent.
Freemasonry has not figured prominently in most of the displays and debates on slavery and abolition in 2007. Yet the society was an important eighteenth century institution and one whose extensive archives have the potential to offer interesting - and sometimes unfamiliar - insights into social processes and relationships that shaped the Atlantic world of which slavery and abolitionism were prominent features. This review of the exhibition at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry begins to uncover this complex and sometimes ambiguous history.
A step forwards or a step sideways?: Some personal reflections of how the presentation of slavery has (and hasn't) changed in the last few years
by Dr. John Beech (Coventry University)
In this article Dr. John Beech offers his views on the representation of slavery in British museums and how it has altered with the marking of the bicentenary of the 1807 abolition of the slave trade. The ways that major British museums, including the new International Slavery Museum and the Birmingham Equiano Exhibition have responded to the bicentenary are discussed and examined.
The bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade has offered many opportunities to think about the past and the present. Perhaps the most significant aspect of this analysis is in terms of the responses to perceptions of difference. These issues are represented in the exhibition, 'A Visible Difference: skin, race and identity 1720-1820', at the Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons, London.