Modern slavery and the challenge of seeing our society for what it is

Posted November 7th, 2013 by
Category: Modern issues Tags: , ,

Global Slavery IndexWhen I speak with audiences about my family’s prominent role in the transatlantic slave trade, I often suggest that while none of us can change what others did in the past, one response to this history is to consider seriously what future generations may think of us. In particular, I ask people to imagine what what institutions or social realities we take for granted today that our descendants may find it hard to believe we were aware of , and yet chose not to oppose or speak out against.

In a very similar vein, Nicholas Kristof offers this thought to readers of his New York Times column this morning, contrasting the evils depicted in Twelve Years a Slave to modern-day slavery:

I fear that a century from now, someone may put together a movie about slavery in 2013, leading our descendants to shake their heads and ask of us: What were they thinking?

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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. []


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