Museums and Sensitive Histories

Sunday, January 9, 2011: 8:30 AM
Room 310 (Hynes Convention Center)
Richard Benjamin , International Slavery Museum, Liverpool, England
This paper discusses the experiences of the International Slavery Museum (ISM), part of National Museums Liverpool (NML), when developing permanent collections and exhibitions around subjects which have been regarded as unrepresentable. Ethical and moral dimensions which the team negotiated when considering displaying and interpreting sensitive issues and objects will be discussed. On 23 August 2007 ISM opened. The year marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British Slave trade, and 23 August is designated by UNESCO as Slavery Remembrance Day, pioneered by NML n 1999 with the support of the local Black community and is now central to ISM's programme. ISM seeks to increase public understanding of transatlantic slavery and its legacies. Both a campaigning museum and an active supporter of social change and social justice. Since 2007 there have been upwards of 850,000 visitors. In 2009 the museum developed the post of Collections Development officer. The remit of the post was to ‘develop the International Slavery Museum's future collections policy'. Central to the role was the development of new updated and contemporary collections policy in line with the aims and objectives of ISM. Such a policy would emphasise contemporary slavery and the associated sensitivities. Within six months, due to new partnerships with human rights organisations such as Stop the Traffick a Contemporary Slavery strand was developed for the museum which also included Black British; Transatlantic Slavery and Liverpool social history strands. It was a steep learning curve for a museum considering having one of the few, if not only, permanent contemporary slavery collections. The museum recently acquired a slave bangle from the collections of Anti-slavery International. It represents the importance of ISM's work to develop it's collections in this area and to campaign on issues of contemporary forms of slavery.
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