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From the Albert Dock to Guyana

15 May 2008 by Richard

Richard on top of a mountain overlooking a green landscape

Hello there

Well I am pleased to announce my return to the world of blogging. The last time I wrote a blog post was way back in October. So what have I been doing since then? Well the answer is plenty!  First if all let me give you an update about the museum. We have had a fantastic response to the museum, from the public, museum professionals, academics and most importantly the local community. To date we have had upwards of 210,000 visitors. This is higher than we expected and we will hopefully exceed our annual forecast. We realise that there is still much work to do but in a way there always should be for a museum.  We aim to be receptive to ideas, comments and indeed criticisms but we truly believe we are a living and breathing museum and as such updating; revising and changing information as well as views and theories is part of that process.

Quite a lot of my time has been spent on putting together various strategies and policies for the museum.  This means that I have been having regular meetings with colleagues from various departments, as well as Angela Robinson – the curator of transatlantic slavery who is the person who looks after the museum collections. Angela quite rightly gets mad when I am sometimes referred to as the curator of the museum in the newspaper or on radio. But I always bring her a small present back from my travels to stay in her good books!

One of those policies is our new collecting policy. Not only do we aim to keep collecting archives and ephemera which relate to transatlantic slavery but we are looking to expand our collections into new areas. For instance, we already have in the museum a number of African American objects, what are often called ‘Black Americana’, objects such as prints, books, toys, games, ornaments or various household memorabilia, often produced from the 1920s through the 1950s in America. Some of these are on display in the Legacy gallery at the museum. Many of these objects depict racist stereotypical images and can be extremely offensive in their nature. We feel it is important though to highlight how these objects and images were used, and indeed tolerated, in popular recent culture.   

What we are now looking to do is increase our Black British memorabilia collections.  Again, some of these objects are very disturbing but we also aim to collect uplifting aspects of Black British life. If someone has an object that they feel we would be interested in please contact us here at the International Slavery Museum.

Another policy we have been developing is our international policy. As an internationally recognized museum we understand the need for us to build collaborations with a number of different countries, especially those who, like Britain, played a central role in transatlantic slavery. As part of this policy I was recently in Guyana for the Commonwealth Association of Museums conference on ‘Museums and Diversity’. I gave a paper titled ‘The International Slavery Museum: an active campaigner’. I wanted to draw attention in the paper not only to the fact that we want to work with museums in other countries, but how I see the museum as actively campaigning against contemporary forms of racism and discrimination as well as forms of contemporary slavery and bonded labour. This makes us an active museum, not a neutral one, and I challenge those that think we should be.

I also got to meet Dr Frank Anthony – the Minister for Culture, Youth and Sport. We talked about ways that we could link with museum and heritage institutions in Guyana, a country which we mention many times in the International Slavery Museum but which until 1966 was called British Guiana. There are many links between Liverpool and Guyana. One of them being that the family of four times Prime Minister William Gladstone owned a plantation near a town called Vreed-en-Hoop in a region of British Guiana called Demerara, a word which is now synonymous with brown sugar around the world. It was a very positive meeting and from it came an official invitation to participate in CARIFESTA.  We even managed to make the national press. The picture is probably the worst ever taken of me though!

Along with other delegates of the conference I managed to visit Iwokrama, a rainforest conservation and development centre. It aims to show how tropical forests can be conserved and sustained providing social, ecological and economic benefits to communities locally and indeed internationally.

On the second day we were told we would be going on a short hike up a very small mountain.  Alarm bells began to ring at the mention of the word mountain. Anyway, 2 hours and a lot of puffing and panting later I reached the top of Turtle Mountain. It was well worth the effort with beautiful views of pristine rainforest and the Essequibo River.

So I am pleased to say that the museum is a great success and there are some very exciting, as well as challenging, times ahead.  Thanks again to all of you who have visited the museum, and for those who have not had the chance, I hope you can make it soon.  Watch this space.

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