The Western Australian Legacies of British Slavery project, in collaboration with the National Centre for Biography, presents a series of online seminars around the broader theme of Writing Slavery into Australian History.
Representations – and silences – relating to slavery in exhibition spaces have changed significantly over time. One of the earliest examples was the 1851 Great Exhibition in Crystal Palace. Three ‘fugitive’ enslaved African people fled the United States to London and displayed their formerly captured and enslaved selves for all ‘civilised’ nation states to see. There are many tensions to be examined between the transatlantic slave trade and the colonial origins of museums. Following some early instances through the mid-twentieth century, in the 1990s exhibitions on slavery multiplied across the Americas, Europe and Africa. Globally, much was occurring – colonial rule in Africa had ended, political leaders began offering national apologies for past atrocities, people of African descent were developing national and international alliances and movements, and the horrors of the Holocaust were being remembered and critically discussed in the nascent field of memory studies. Representations of slavery within museums and other sites of memory have transformed in conjunction with evolving contexts in global politics and social movements. The recent ‘biographical turn’ in museums has been particularly wide-reaching. This paper will investigate these shifts in narrative and interpretive strategies, within global social, political and historical contexts, referring to exhibitions from the Americas, Africa, Europe and Oceania.