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Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 55–80 | Cite as

Maritime Museums and Transatlantic Slavery: a Study in British and American Identity

  • Phyllis K. Leffler
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  1. 1.
    Poems on the Abolition of the Slave Trade, (Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1971) 76.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Marcus Wood, ed. The Poetry of Slavery: An Anglo-American Anthology, 1764–1865, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 605.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    http://www.mariner.org/captivepassage/departure/index.htmlGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    See, for example, Ira Berlin, “American Slavery in History and Memory and the Search for Social Justice,” Journal of American History, 90 (March 2004), 1251-68Google Scholar
  5. 4a.
    James Oliver Horton, “Patriot Acts: Public History in Public Service,” Journal of American Histon, 92 (December 2005), 807–809.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    James Clifford, “Museums as Contact Zones,” in David Boswell and Jessica Evans, eds., Representing the Nation: A Reader - Histories, heritage and museums (London: Routledge, 1999), 438.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Cited in Sheldon Hackney, “The American Identity,” The Public Historian, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Winter 1997), 13.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    A major exhibit on slavery, for example, opened in New York on October 7, 2005 at the New York Historical Society, demonstrating the place of slavery in building New York.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, ed. David W. Blight and Robert Gooding-Williams (Boston: Bedford Books, 1997), 35.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    Anthony Tibbies, “Against Human Dignity: The development of the Transatlantic Slavery Gallery at Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool,” in IXth International Congress of Maritime Museums Proceedings, 95.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    Verlyn Klinkenborg, “Liverpool’s Heart of Darkness,” Mother Jones (July/August 2002), 66.Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    Tibbies, “Against Human Dignity,” 95.Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    Letter from Tony Tibbies, Keeper of the Merseyside Maritime Museum, 19 May 2005.Google Scholar
  14. 13.
  15. 14.
  16. 15.
    Interview by Phyllis Leffler with John Hightower, President and CEO of Mariner’s Museum, January 29, 2003. See also “Major Exhibition on Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Opens at Anacostia Museum on Feb. 3,” Smithsonian Institution press release, January 24, 2003.Google Scholar
  17. 16.
    Before opening at South Street Seaport, New York, the exhibit was mounted at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture (2003), and at the Missouri Historical Society (2005). It is also scheduled for Mobile, Alabama.Google Scholar
  18. 17.
    A Maritime Museum On Merseyside: Feasability study, produced for the Merseyside County Council by Building Design Partnership and Robin Wade Design Associates. February 1979, Merseyside Museum Archives. See also Richard Foster, Proposed Maritime Museum: Outline Development Plan, March 1978, Merseyside Museum Archives.Google Scholar
  19. 18.
    Homer L. Ferguson, “The Mariners’ Museum,” paper presented to The Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, New York: November 1937, in The Mariners’ Museum Library Archives. See also The Mariners’ Museum, 1930-1950: A History and Guide (The Mariners’ Museum, Publication No. 20, 1950), Foreward, 1. South Street Seaport, New York, had similarly lofty goals of a museum which was international in scope, with “New York being the connection - across the seas and via ships - with the peoples and customs that created our way of life.” [Peter Neill, “A Museum Like No Other,” Report from the President: Master Plan: 1985-1990, South Street Seaport Museum, Statement of Purpose.]Google Scholar
  20. 19.
    For diversity initiatives within the U.S. and England, see the goals of the National Park Service (http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/liisnps/index.htm); the goals of English Heritage (http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/); and those of Re:Source (http://www.resource.govuk/index.html).index.html).
  21. 20.
    John Thornton, Africa and Africans in the making of the Atlantic world, 1400-1680 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 3; see also 13, 14, 41–42.Google Scholar
  22. 21.
    For a fuller analysis of historiographical trends in discussions of transatlantic slavery, see Herbert Klein, The Atlantic Slave Trade (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 213–224.Google Scholar
  23. 22.
    David Northrup, “Finding Africa in World History,” in Historically Speaking, Vol. VI, No. 2 (November/December 2004), 18.Google Scholar
  24. 23.
    Linda Colley, Captives: Britain, Empire and the World, 1600-1850 (London: Jonathan Cape, 2002), 4–5.Google Scholar
  25. 24.
    Colley, Captives, 367. See also Harry Gouldbourne, “African Slaves and the Atlantic World,” in Gert Oostindie, ed.. Facing Up to the Past: Perspectives on the Commemoration of Slavery from Africa, the Americas and Europe (Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2001), 127.Google Scholar
  26. 25.
    Ibid, 374, 377.Google Scholar
  27. 26.
    Herbert S. Klein, The Atlantic Slave Trade (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 43–45.Google Scholar
  28. 27.
    Haskell Springer, ed., America and the Sea: A Literary History (Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1995), 7.Google Scholar
  29. 28.
  30. 29.
    See, for example, James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, Slavery and the Making of America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005)Google Scholar
  31. 29a.
    John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, Jr., From Slavery to Freedom, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000)Google Scholar
  32. 29b.
    Eric Eustace Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994)Google Scholar
  33. 29c.
    Ron Eyerman, Jeffrey C. Alexander and Steven Seidman, Cultural Trauma: Slavery and the Formation of African American Identity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 30.
    For a full discussion of this in plantation museums, see Jennifer L. Eichstedt and Stephen Small, Representations of Slavery: Race and Ideology in Southern Plantation Museums (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002).Google Scholar
  35. 31.
    Seymour Drescher, “Commemorating Slavery and Abolition in the United States of America,” in Oostinde, ed.,Facing Up to Slavery, 109.Google Scholar
  36. 32.
    Such a museum is being created in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and is scheduled to open in February 2007.Google Scholar
  37. 33.
    See museum’s website, http://www.freedomcenter.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=homeviewPage&pageJd=8D77E07E-lF47~4791-AF9442068338E771index.cfm?fuseaction=homeviewPage&pageJd=8D77E07E-lF47~4791-AF9442068338E771.
  38. 34.
    Tibbies, “Against Human Dignity,” ICMM Proceedings, 96.Google Scholar
  39. 35.
    Interview by Phyllis Leffler with John Hightower, January 29, 2003.Google Scholar
  40. 36.
    “Transatlantic Slavery: Against Human Dignity,” Gallery Text, Introduction to the Gallery.Google Scholar
  41. 37.
    Ibid., The Legacy of Transatlantic SlaveryGoogle Scholar
  42. 38.
    Ibid., Introduction to the Gallery.Google Scholar
  43. 39.
    “Captive Passage: The Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Making of the Americas,” Gallery Text, Orientation Section 1.Google Scholar
  44. 40.
    Marcus Wood, Blind Memory: Visual representations of slavery in England and America, 1780-1865 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000). 296.Google Scholar
  45. 41.
    Interview by Phyllis Leffler with Julia Hotton, Guest Assistant Curator, February 3, 2003.Google Scholar
  46. 42.
    “Captive Passage,” Orientation Section, 1.1Google Scholar
  47. 43.
    Ibid., A Lasting Legacy, 6.4.1Google Scholar
  48. 44.
    For a further discussion on Eurocentrism and African agency, see Thornton, Africa and Africans in the making of the Atlantic world, 3, 4, 6–7, 37–39, 42, 44, 112, 125.Google Scholar
  49. 45.
    “Against Human Dignity,” Gallery Text, The Dehumanising Effects of Transatlantic SlaveryGoogle Scholar
  50. 46.
    Tibbies, “Against Human Dignity,” ICMM Proceedings, 98.Google Scholar
  51. 47.
    Marcus Wood, Blind Memory: Visual Representations of Slaves in England and America, 1780-1865 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), 299Google Scholar
  52. 47a.
    Alan Rice, Radical Narratives of the Black Atlantic (London: Continuum, 2003), 204.Google Scholar
  53. 48.
    “Against Human Dignity,” Gallery Text, West Africa Before SlavingGoogle Scholar
  54. 49.
    Ibid. “Against Human Dignity,” Gallery Text, West Africa Before SlavingGoogle Scholar
  55. 50.
    Ibid., The Impact of Slaving on AfricaGoogle Scholar
  56. 51.
    Ibid., The Scale of Transatlantic Slavery. For more detailed information on the numbers of people enslaved and mortality statistics, see David Eltis and David Richardson, ed., Slavery and Abolition, Vol. 18, No. 1 (April 1997).Google Scholar
  57. 52.
    Ibid., Chattel Slavery, The Impact of Slavery in AfricaGoogle Scholar
  58. 53.
    Thornton, Africa and Africans in the making of the Atlantic World, 74.Google Scholar
  59. 54.
    Ibid., 76.Google Scholar
  60. 55.
    For a further discussion of this relationship, see Daniel Baugh, “Maritime Strength and Atlantic Commerce: The uses of ‘...a grand marime empire,’” in Lawrence Stone, ed. An Imperial State at War: Britain from 1689 to 1815 (London: Routledge, 1994).Google Scholar
  61. 56.
    “Against Human Dignity,” Gallery Text, The Legacy of Transatlantic Slavery.Google Scholar
  62. 57.
    Ibid., Black Achievement.Google Scholar
  63. 58.
    “Captive Passage: The Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Making of the Americas,” Gallery Text, West Africa Before Slaving. This wording appears to be the result of a simplification of the Liverpool exhibit. That text had a section on Chattel Slavery, which was not carried over, and another section named “The Dehumanising Effects of Transatlantic Slavery.” To distinguish chattel slavery from African Slavery, the word dehumanizing was used, explaining that African slavery did not involve “the devastation and death of its transatlantic counter-part.” Captive Passage collapsed some of these messages, leading to what was perceived as an offensive suggestion.Google Scholar
  64. 59.
    Marc Morano, “Civil Rights Pioneer Slams Slavery Museum Exhibit,” April 07, 2003, CNSNews.com (http://www.cnsnews.com/)
  65. 60.
    Marc Morano, “Smithsonian Denies Slavery in Africa Was #x2018;Dehumanizing,’” March 31, 2003, Capitalism Magazine (http://www.capmag.com/)
  66. 61.
  67. 62.
    “Captive Passage,” Gallery Text, The Triangle Trade, 1.2.Google Scholar
  68. 63.
    Ibid., The Leaders of the Trade, 1.4Google Scholar
  69. 64.
    Ibid., Legacy, 6.1.1Google Scholar
  70. 65.
    Ibid, Africa’s Gifts, 6.2.1Google Scholar
  71. 66.
    Ibid., A Lasting Legacy, 6.4.1Google Scholar
  72. 67.
    In Against Human Dignity the engagement of individuals is revealed through a group of plaques affixed to a wall, bearing street names. These names, still extant in Liverpool, refer back to individuals who created their fortunes through the slave trade. In addition, the labels occasionally mention specific people George Washington and the Mayor of Liverpool, Thomas Golightly, but the discrepancies with political values are not pointed out.Google Scholar
  73. 68.
    “Captive Passage: The Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Making of the Americas,” Object Labels, A2.2.5Google Scholar
  74. 69.
    Ibid.,GR3.5.3Google Scholar
  75. 70.
    Ibid., GR 1.2.2, GR 1.2.4, GR 1.2.5. The Anacostia version of the exhibit expands the description on John Singleton Copley’s portrait of Henry Laurens, a businessman from Charleston in the mid eighteenth-century who owned a plantation and traded in slaves. The Newport News version emphasizes his economic prowess only. The Anacostia exhibit reminds us that Laurens was a delegate to the Continental Congress, thereby reinforcing the economic/political hypocrisies. It is most interesting that this example of a southerner who was equally inconsistent as his northern counterparts is not included in the Newport News exhibit!Google Scholar
  76. 71.
    See, for example, Stanley L. Engerman and Eugene Genovese, eds., Race and Slavery in the Western Hemisphere: Quantitative Studies (New Jersey, Princeton University Press. 1975)Google Scholar
  77. 71a.
    David Eltis, Economic Growth and the Ending of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (New York, 1987)Google Scholar
  78. 71b.
    Herbert S. Klein, The Middle Passage: comparative studies in the Atlantic slave trade (Princeton. N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  79. 71c.
    Most recently, data on 27,000 voyages has been compiled and published in David Eltis, Stephan D. Behrendt, David Richardson, and Herbert S. Klein, The Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1562? 1867: a database CD-Rom (England, Cambridge University Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  80. 72.
    See, especially, Klein, Atlantic Slave Trade, 130ffGoogle Scholar
  81. 72a.
    Herbert S. Klein and Stanley L. Engerman, “Long Term Trends in African Mortality in the Transatlantic Slave Trade,” Slavery and Abolition, Vol. 18, No. 1 (April 1997), 40 ff; Stephen D. Behrendt, “Crew Mortality in the Transatlantic Slave Trade in the Eighteenth Century, Ibid., 49ff.Google Scholar
  82. 73.
    Wood, Blind Memory, 16–18.Google Scholar
  83. 74.
    Roger B. Stein, Seascape and the American Imagination (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1975), 2.Google Scholar
  84. 75.
    Springer, America and the Sea, 1.Google Scholar
  85. 76.
    Elizabeth Schultz, “African-American Literature,” in Springer, America and the Sea, 233ff. Springer recognizes that African-Americans sometimes also found freedom through the sea by escaping from slavery and sailing from New England ports.Google Scholar
  86. 77.
    Tibbies, “Against Human Dignity,” ICMM, 99–100.Google Scholar
  87. 78.
  88. 79.
    Klinkenborg, “Liverpool’s Heart of Darkness,” Mother Jones, 67.Google Scholar
  89. 80.
    Interview by Phyllis Leffler with John Hightower, Mariner’s Museum, Newport News, Virginia, January 29, 2003.Google Scholar
  90. 81.
    “Captive Passage,” Gallery Text, 3.5.1.Google Scholar
  91. 82.
    The Middle Passage depictions at both the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News and the Missouri Historical Society use sounds of human distress and images projected against a dark wall to elicit visitor reaction. Moans and groans from the recreation of the ship’s hold in St. Louis resonate throughout the entire exhibit, creating a background of pain and suffering.Google Scholar
  92. 83.
    “Captive Passage,” Object Labels, GR3.2.2, GR 3.3/4, GR3.3.4, GR3.3.5. The claim that tight packing increased profits has been challenged by current research. See above, footnote 57.Google Scholar
  93. 84.
    Ibid., GR3.3.3. The claim that tight packing increased profits has been challenged by current research. See above, fn.54.Google Scholar
  94. 85.
    Harry Goulbourne claims that Britons maintain a “national psyche” of “goodness” and pride because of the country’s role in promoting the abolition of the trade in 1807. Although the Liverpool exhibit mentions the place of Britain, the overriding message from this exhibit is that Britain was one of many nations that supported the racist and inhumane trade for centuries. For Goulbourne’s argument, see “African Slaves and the Atlantic World,” in Facing Up to Slavery, 127.Google Scholar
  95. 86.
    “Against Human Dignity,” Gallery Text, African Resistance, Resistance to Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation sections.Google Scholar
  96. 87.
    Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma (New York: Harpers, 1944, xliv, 3, 5.Google Scholar
  97. 88.
    Allison Blakely, “Remembering Slavery in the United States,” in Oostindie, Facing Up to Slaves, 102.Google Scholar
  98. 89.
    The concept of Americans as an “exceptional” people was first expressed by Alexis de Tocqueville; the thesis of exceptionalism was more fully developed by Seymour Lipset. See Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1945), Vol. 2, 36-37; Seymour Martin Lipset, American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword (New York: Norton, 1966).Google Scholar
  99. 90.
    “Captive Passage,” Gallery Text, Resistance and Endurance, 2.5.2Google Scholar
  100. 91.
    Ibid., The Struggle for Emancipation, 5.3.1/5.3.2Google Scholar
  101. 92.
    “Captive Passage.” Gallery Text. Abolition: The Struggle for Emancipation, 5.3.1/ 5.3.2Google Scholar
  102. 93.
    Klein, The Atlantic Slave Trade, 183ff.Google Scholar
  103. 93a.
    Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin Company, 2005)Google Scholar
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    David Eltis, Economic Growth and the Ending of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  105. 94.
    Ibid., Abolition, 5.4.1/5.4.2Google Scholar
  106. 95.
    “Against Human Dignity,” Gallery Text, The Legacy of Transatlantic Slavery.Google Scholar
  107. 96.
    “Captive Passage.” Gallery Text, Legacy: Building New Nations, 6.1.1Google Scholar
  108. 97.
    Thomas McCarthy, “Coming to Terms with Our Past, Part II: On the Morality and Politics of Reparations for Slavery,” Political Theory (December 2004), 2–3.Google Scholar
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    Graeme Davison, “National museums in a global age: Observations abroad and reflections at home,” Negotiating Histories (Carberra, National Museum of Australia, 2001), 13.Google Scholar
  110. 99.
    http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/. See Policy, Inclusion and Diversity.
  111. 100.
    “Transatlantic Slavery Gallery: Summative Evaluation,” Prepared by Creative Research Ltd., 24 March 1995. Unpublished report, Merseyside Maritime Museum Archives.Google Scholar
  112. 100.
    Robert R. Weyeneth, “The Power of Apology and the Process of Historical Reconciliation,” The Public Historian, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Summer 2001), 21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  113. 102.
    See, for example, John Carroll, Guilt: The grey eminence behind character, history and culture (London: Routledge, 1985)Google Scholar
  114. 102a.
    Elazar Barkan, The Guilt of Nations: Restitution and Negotiating Historical Injustices (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001)Google Scholar
  115. 102b.
    Luigi Zoja, Growth and Guilt: Psychology and the limits of development (London: Routledge, 1995).Google Scholar
  116. 103.
    Interview by Phyllis Leffler with Sharon Ann Holt, Senior Historian, South Street Seaport Museum, February 4, 2003, New York City.Google Scholar
  117. 104.
    Phyllis K. Leffler, “Peopling the Portholes: National Identity and Maritime Museums in the U.S. and U.K., The Public Historian, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Fall, 2004).Google Scholar
  118. 105.
    Telephone interview by Phyllis Leffler with Jackie Dace, May 9, 2005.Google Scholar
  119. 106.
    In the case of the Mariner’s Museum, Captive Passage resulted in an increase of Black visitation from 2-3% to 30%. (Interview by Phyllis Leffler with John Hightower, January 29, 2003.)Google Scholar
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    Drescher, “Commemorating Slavery...,” in Facing Up to Slaves, 110.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Taylor & Francis Group 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Phyllis K. Leffler
    • 1
  1. 1.The University of VirginiaUSA

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