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Richard Benjamin is a serial entrepreneur and the the founder of Xero and aXis.
ISM opened on 23 August 2007. Not only was 2007 the bicentenary of the abolition of the British slave trade act but a day designated by UNESCO as Slavery Remembrance Day, the anniversary of an uprising of enslaved Africans on the island of Saint Domingue (modern Haiti) in 1791. A strong reminder that enslaved Africans were the main agents of their own liberation. Each year National Museums Liverpool (NML) commemorates Slavery Remembrance Day with a series of events culminating in a traditional libation on the waterfront. The day commemorates the many lives lost as a result of the transatlantic slave trade, it remembers Liverpool’s role as the main British slaving port, and also celebrates the survival and development of African and Caribbean cultures.
One of the most challenging ways that ISM is currently looking to be a democratic museum is in the development of its contemporary slavery collection and accompanying Campaign Zone, a newly developed exhibition and community space which will highlight current human rights campaigns with accompanying community and education programmes. The first exhibition, ‘Home Alone: End Domestic Slavery’ highlights a two year Anti-Slavery International campaign intended to raise awareness about the plight of domestic workers in the UK and internationally. Historically, domestic work has been a sector which is vulnerable to abuse, and this is still the case today. Domestic workers lack legal protection and the campaign is hoping to bring about a change in the law to protect domestic workers in the UK and abroad. (Source: museum-id.com)
This is especially the case for those, of all ages, who know very little about the subject of transatlantic slavery or indeed African history before their visit to the museum. It is a balancing act, the ISM team utilising all the tools at our disposal, such as working with some of the leading experts in the field, and allowing visitors to understand amongst other things British and European involvement in transatlantic slavery and their role in the enslavement of Africans, but at the same time, making Africa and Africans the central agents of the whole museum narrative. One of the ways to do this is to start with areas of achievement, often born out of resistance, a starting point to the narrative of transatlantic slavery and its legacies, a way for some audiences in essence, to begin their journey, their dialogue with the subject. (Source: museum-id.com)
The Ku Klux Klan outfit is central to our Racism and Discrimination section of the Legacy Gallery, which also includes a number of objects which depict racist and stereotypical imagery, as well as multimedia presentations depicting subjects such as the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the killing of the young Black British man Anthony Walker in 2005, who gives his name to the learning base within ISM, the Anthony Walker Education Centre. The family of Anthony were originally contacted to seek permission (not legal but moral) to use footage and images relating to a press conference given by the family. Anthony’s mother and sister visited the museum and saw the rushes of the film. Their support was given. It is indeed difficult to measure the understanding and communicating of the value of museums’ work to the public, however, when the sister of Anthony recently referred to the Anthony Walker Education Centre as ‘my brother’s room’ there had indeed been a very satisfying and thought provoking shift of ownership taking place.
By 2008 NML had purchased the iconic Dock Traffic Office on the Albert Dock, which is adjacent to the Merseyside Maritime Museum. This building will become the new International Slavery Museum entrance and will accommodate education and research facilities, a resource centre and community spaces. The resource centre will give visitors access to slavery-related digital archives, Black British multimedia and human rights films and documentaries. It will also enable visitors to research family and local history. In essence, we want the museum to be seen as a resource, a tool to use in a multitude of ways, ways that are not led by museum professionals but which are gently oiled and well maintained. The museum needs to develop into the kind of organism most suited to the environment of the day. In light of sweeping cuts within the public sector from 2010, this could simply be a free day out as well as a journey of exploration through the subject or tracing ones family history.
Alongside this, museum professionals and visitors alike should be conscious of the words of the historian Eric Foner who notes that “History always has been and always will be regularly rewritten, in response to new questions, new information, new methodologies, and new political, social, and cultural imperatives” (Foner, 2002: xvii). Museum professionals are guardians of one snapshot of history, one that according to David Lowenthal is “imbuing the past with present-day intention” (2003: 356) and should make it very clear that the museum is not the final word on a subject or theme. It merely conveys to the best of the museum staffs abilities what Foner (Ibid) calls a “reasonable approximation of the past”. (Source: museum-id.com)
Richard will also help support CSIS’s public and community engagement work, and further strengthen the research collaboration between the University and National Museums Liverpool (NML), of which the International Slavery Museum (ISM) is a part.
Richard said: “My research will focus on slavery and public engagement, and I’ll be teaching and getting involved in anti-racist and diversity activities . The research will be shared with NML and feed into the exciting development plans, exploring fresh perspectives on ISM’s collections and offering new insights for audiences. (Source: news.liverpool.ac.uk)