Lessons from the British commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade

Posted September 11th, 2012 by
Category: Public History Tags: , , , ,

Freedom! Sculpture; image copyright Christian Aid/Leah Gordon Recently I was reading an essay by Geoffrey Cubitt, senior lecturer in history at the University of York (UK) and co-investigator of the “1807 Commemorated” project, which analyzed visitor responses to the Bicentenary of the 1807 Act of Abolition in British museums.1 First of all, I want to acknowledge how amazing it was that the University of York spent two years studying how Britain commemorated, through exhibits, memorials, etc, the abolition of the slave trade. The team not only wanted to find out how the country remembered this history, but how visitors to these museums and memorials reacted to learning about this difficult time in the country’s past. The results of this study, chronicled in a separate volume titled Representing Enslavement and Abolition in Museums, shows an awesome feat of visitor studies and conclusions on how a country tries to remember what it spent so long trying to forget.

The lessons draw by Cubitt in his essay “Museums and Slavery in Britain” can serve as guide posts for the upcoming U.S. sesquicentennial commemoration of the Emancipation Proclamation.

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  1. The essay, along with others on international museums/commemorations of slavery and the slave trade, can be found in Politics of Memory: Making Slavery Visible in the Public Space edited by Ana Lucia Araujo. []

“Polly want a derogatory term for a melanin-challenged Euro-American?”

Posted May 18th, 2012 by
Category: Popular Culture, Public History

CrackerThe origin of the word “cracker” was never important to me.1 Growing up in Vermont, my only relationship to the word was something we put in soup or ate with cheese. I was vaguely aware that it was a pejorative term of southerners, but I never gave it much thought.

That all changed a few years ago when I started working for the Tracing Center. I was trying to think of an interesting introductory activity for a teacher workshop – I wanted something that would ground people in the content of slavery and get them comfortable with the idea of talking about difficult subjects. I chose four words – “slave”, “master”, “cracker”, and “quadroon” – and each person was given one word to respond to in writing. They were to write down whatever came to mind about the word and then we went around in a circle and shared responses. I’ve done this activity multiple times hence and have found it a great way to start a discussion. However, I always run into the same problem … people will ask about the origin of the word “cracker”?

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  1. The title of this blog post comes from www.vendio.com. []

What you didn’t learn in history class

Posted December 3rd, 2010 by
Category: History Tags: , ,

South Carolina’s “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union,” adopted by the state legislature on December 24, 1860, mentions the word “slave” 18 times.  The following passage (emphasis added) from the document clearly makes the case for secession due to the fact that the Federal Government encroached on their rights to own slaves.
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President’s House in Philadelphia

Posted November 29th, 2010 by
Category: History, News and Announcements Tags: , , , ,

This December, the Independence National Historical Park (INHP) opens its new exhibit at the President’s House – site of the residence of George Washington and John Adams while the capital was in Philadelphia.

The exhibit, which consists of a partial reconstruction of the house along with text panels, features information about how Presidents George Washington and John Adams lived and conducted their executive branch business. Washington brought some of his slaves to this site and they lived and toiled with other members of his household during the years that our first president was guiding the experimental development of the young nation toward modern, republican government.  The lives of the enslaved members of Washington’s household are commemorated at the site.

Last spring, the committee leading the exhibit development afforded Tracing Center staff the great honor of commenting on the final draft of the exhibit text.  Tracing Center staff also conducted a training session about the history of slavery in the North for INHP Interpretive Rangers and staff.  For more information visit Independence National Historical Park’s President’s House website.


Teacher Workshops in Rhode Island

Posted November 22nd, 2010 by
Category: News and Announcements Tags: , , ,

This fall the Tracing Center presented a series of special workshops for Rhode Island educators on the role of the North in slavery.

The history of Rhode Island’s complicity in slavery and the slave trade has been missing from the state’s classrooms for generations. The Rhode Island Department of Education mandated teaching about the state’s complicity in slavery/slave trade in its Grade Span Expectations (teaching standards) in 2008. Some teachers don’t know the history, other teachers are aware of the historical information, but are unsure how to teach it. The workshops covered content knowledge about Rhode Island’s complicity in slavery and the slave trade, as well as tools for how to effectively and sensitively teach the subject matter to students of all backgrounds. Through our training in content and pedagogy and the written resources provided for them, they returned to their classroom better equipped to teach about slavery and its legacies.

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