PreCirculatedMultiSession Politics of Memory: Making Slavery Visible in the Public Space, Part 7: The Slave Past in the Public Space: Europe, Americas, and Africa

AHA Session 260
Sunday, January 9, 2011: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Room 310 (Hynes Convention Center)
Mitch Kachun, Western Michigan University
Martin Klein, University of Toronto

Session Abstract

This panel discusses the memorialization of slavery in England, Brazil, and Benin. The four papers deal with the challenges of making slavery visible in the public space of societies deeply involved in the Atlantic slave trade. In England, the official initiatives recognizing the British involvement in the Atlantic slave trade can be traced back to the 1990s. In Benin, since the 1990s, various official projects aimed not only to make the country’s slave past visible but also to promote cultural tourism led to the creation of monuments, memorials, museums, and festivals. In Brazil, the country that received the largest number of Africans during the period of the Atlantic slave trade, the creation of permanent public places remembering slavery was and still is more problematic. Benjamin’s paper examines the creation of the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool. The paper discusses ethical and moral dimensions negotiated by the museum team  when considering displaying and interpreting sensitive issues and objects. In the context of the commemorations of the bicentenary of British abolition of slave trade abolition, Cubitt’s paper analyzes how British museums and other institutions sought to negotiate the difficulties of a still painful and imperfectly acknowledged history. On the one hand, the institutions tried to ‘remind’ a predominantly white and middle-class conventional museum-going public of transatlantic slavery’s major contribution to British history, and of the brutality and exploitation that were integral to this contribution. On the other hand, these same institutions attempted to convince the UK members of African and African-Caribbean communities that their history, and the sufferings of their ancestors, were at last being recognized, and their voices accorded a place in public discourse on the past and on the nature of British society. Cleveland’s paper discusses the creation of the AfroBrasil Museum opened in São Paulo in 2004. Among various goals, this museum aimed at providing an alternative narrative of Brazilian history, where Afro-Brazilians were finally recognized. Cleveland’s paper aims to understand how this museum function as a heuristic tool for making the memory of slavery public in Brazil. Araujo’s paper look at how after the various official international projects and commemorations aiming to promote the memory of the victims of the Atlantic slave trade, the memory of three slave merchants in Brazil, Benin and England continue to occupy a prominent place in the public space. Celebrated in monuments (two of them recently inaugurated or re-inaugurated), these perpetrators are almost never depicted as slave merchants, but rather as benefactors and great businessmen.