The the museum presents some fundamental key issues.

The International Slavery Museum was one of the very few
museums to ‘look at aspects of historical and contemporary slavery’ 1and
to focus primarily on this factor. When considering the importance of the
museums it is important to understand that the museum presents some fundamental
key issues. This focuses on the presentation of both native Africans and Trans-Atlantic
Slave Trade and this essay will focus on examining each of these aspects. The
museum itself aimed to provide the audience with an insight into ‘the
international importance of slavery, both in a historic and contemporary
It focused on providing the audience with an experience for the lived of the
‘enslaved’ and the tough experiences they had faced. The museum is divided into
themes in which are separated into: Life in West Africa, Enslavement and the
Middle Passage and finally Legacy. The museum allow a greater understanding
into the greater depth of the stories and experiences of the ‘enslaved’.
Arguably, there are some limitations of the museum an example being the idea of
‘commemoration not celebration’, so the museum focuses on commemorating the
past events in particular the lives of the native Africans as well as the
presentation of the transatlantic slave trade throughout the museum.
Furthermore, the museum allows the audience to gain an experience in
understanding the message in which the museum was trying to convey for each of
the key issues.

The presentation of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade within the
museum was a key issue when examining the display on ‘Enslavement and The
Middle Passage’. This particular exhibition used the technique of the surroundings
to shed a light particularly on the experiences of the enslaved especially on
their voyage trips. The museum focused both on colour and sound to reflect the
experiences of the enslaved and the dark colours within the displays created a
tone that which allowed the audience to gain a first-hand experience. The
colour and sound created a combination as the mood of the colours reflected the
screaming and pain of the enslaved during the voyages to the Americas. Walvin
(2013) argues that many of the enslaved were ‘viewed merely as victims, with
little role or agency in the entire story of enslavement and freedom’3.
It can be argued that the exhibition to some extent creates the enslaved as
‘victims’ with the sound reflecting the pain as the screaming suggests a lack
of freedom. The harsh conditions as well as the unsanitary surrounding often
led to the ‘death of many millions’. 4
Furthermore, it was also evidently clear that ‘Liverpool came to dominate the
British Slave Trade’ 5and
the exhibition reflected much on the role of Transatlantic Slave Trade within
Britain during the 18th century. The museum presented the journey of
many of the enslaved from Africa to the America as one which was regarded to be
a negative experience and the struggles in which many had faced. The
presentation of of Olaudah Equiano (a former slave) within the museum gave an
insight into the first-hand account and experience on life on the ships.
Equiano (1789) states ‘This wretched situation was again aggravated by the
galling of the chains, now become insupportable…’ 6his
account allows an insight into the first-hand experience of a former slave who
had experienced the hardship that had come with the trade ships.

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When examining the International Slavery Museum and important
factor to consider is the way in which Trans-Atlantic Slavery was presented
within the museum. It can be regarded as an exhibition which heightens the
treatment of the enslaved with the objects that are included within the
gallery. The ‘Shackles’ are a symbolic object as it presents the enslaved as
having no ‘freedom’ (see in Appendix 1). The shackles themselves were ‘rustic’
looking and looked rotten many of the enslaved were chained with one going on
their hand and the other on their feet this was because there was a fear of the
enslaved escaping and so the shackles signified that the enslaved were
‘trapped’. The exhibition on ‘Enslavement and the Middle Passage’ included many
shackles throughout there was one figure in particular of an ‘Enslaved African breaking
free of his chains7’
(see in Appendix 2). The judgment which can be formed from this figure is that this
is a ‘symbolic gesture’. The ‘shackles’ were presented throughout the museum
this could instigate that the enslaved were not treated in a fair manner and
the Africans were seen to be of an inferior status. Almost, as though the
shackles had removed their identity and more importantly their freedom and the
museum did well in presenting this within the displays. Another interpretation
is argued by Walvin (2013) states ‘Restraining the growing ranks of Africans by
manacles and chains was the only way in which small bands of sailors could hope
to maintain any semblance of control’8
it suggests that in order for the ships to be running Africans needed to be
‘chained’ for many it created the atmosphere of a prison and within the museum
the videos explicitly show the Africans in pain as they try to break free from
the violence similar to the figure that had been shown. 

The display on ‘Life in West Africa’ within the International
Slavery Museum presents the culture and life of the Africans before slavery.
The museum presents the contrast of the two galleries with a difference in
colour. The ‘Life in West Africa’ display includes colourful colours which
creates an uplifting atmosphere and it unveils the ‘African cultural
achievements before the arrival of Europeans and the start of the transatlantic
slave trade.’9
The Museum allows the recognition of the lives of Africans before slavery and
how their lives were lived so freely. This gallery further emphasised the power
and wealth of the West Africans and they also were popular with trade as their
was ‘strong trade bonds between Europeans and Africans’ 10(Emmer
2014;2009). This was ironic as not long after the Europeans began kidnapping
the Africans and their culture as well as identity was said to have been left
behind. Many of the Europeans saw the Africans as uncivilised’, however the
Igbo domestic architecture actually proves that they were infact
‘sophisticated’. The museum presents the Igbo architecture (see in appendix 3)
as portraying the ‘wealth’ of the Africans as well as reflecting the views that
during the early modern period the Africans were living in a free society and
the museum allows the understanding of a family unit of a titled Igbo man. The
display allows the audience into a greater understanding of the lives of West
Africans before slavery and the impact in which many of the ‘enslaved’ face and
how their lives changed from the West African society to the ‘plantations’ in

The Africa exhibition was split into two with the lives
before slavery and after the museum infact distinguished the two. The
‘plantation’ display had focused on portraying the audience with an atmosphere
of darkness and this helped with experiencing the struggles in which many had
faced. For many Africans the ‘Plantation owners wanted labour and justified the
barbarity of their treatment by using biblical arguments that Africans were
less than human’ 11as
this was reflected through the series of images which presented the condition
of the enslaved. Blassingame (1979) argues that many were ‘Captured and brought
to America under the most painful and bewildering conditions…’12
this suggests that many of the Africans were kidnapped and sent to Americas to
work on ‘the plantations’ and many faced hardship in comparison to their lives in
West Africa. As, they went from living a free life to becoming ‘enslaved’ and
their freedom being removed from them. The image of the Africans working on
plantations (see in appendix 4) allows the audience of the museum to understand
that they were under power of their masters and as Olaudah Equiano quoted ‘the
slaves to be branded with the initial letters of their masters name; and a load
of heavy iron hooks hung about their necks’ this is infact reflected throughout
the exhibition. The image presents the master with ultimate control as the
gesture of his hand could be understood to be an ‘order’ and the overall
message in which the museum conveys is the change the Africans had faced and
ironically the exhibition reflects the reading in which I have read about the
lives of the enslaved. The museum has used the technique of colour to create a
differentiation with the ‘positive’ life they once lived to now working on
plantations with the dark atmosphere that creates negative connations. During
this period the ‘British American colonies demanded African slaves, the role of
the African companies changed to supply them’13
many of the Africans were sent to the Americas to work on either plantation or
factories and they were used as a source of labour. For many there is a loss of
identity and culture are left behind as in the Americas they are identified
with another name and overtime their identity is completely removed.

1 International Slavery Museum. (2017). About the
International Slavery Museum. Retrieved from

2 International Slavery Museum. (2017). About the
International Slavery Museum. Retrieved from

Walvin, J. (2013). Crossings:
Africa, the Americas and the Atlantic slave trade. London: Reaktion Books.
Pg .12

Understanding Slavery. (n.d.). Retrieved from

5 Richardson, D., Schwarz, S., & Tibbles, A.
(2007). Liverpool and Transatlantic Slavery. GB: Liverpool
University Press.Pg.4

6 International Slavery Museum. (2017). Olaudah
Equiano – life on board. Retrieved from

7 International Slavery Museum. (2017). Figure
of an enslaved African breaking free of his chains. Retrieved from

8 Walvin, J. (2013). Crossings: Africa, the
Americas and the Atlantic slave trade. London: Reaktion Books. Pg .91

9 International Slavery Museum. (2017). Life in
West Africa. Retrieved from

10Emmer, P. C. (2014;2009). Migration, trade, and
slavery in an expanding world: Essays in honor of pieter emmer (1st ed.).

11 International Slavery Museum. (2017). Life in
plantations. Retrieved from

12 Blassingame, J. (1979). Enslavement, Acculturation and
African Survials. In J. Blassingame (Ed), The slave community: plantation
life in the antebellum South. Pg.7

13 The National Archives.( ). Britain and the
Slave Trade. Retrieved from