National Museums Liverpool - Museums Association

National Museums Liverpool

Funding round

Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, round 10


National Museums Liverpool (NML) was awarded £96,910, to research, understand and share stories from collections relating to transatlantic slavery and its legacy, and black social history, and to test a model for working with community groups in Liverpool, Hull and London to care for and share collections held outside museums, involving a wide partnership of organisations including Bristol Museums Galleries and Archives and Anti-Slavery International.

About the project

Sankofa is a word in the Akan language of Ghana that translates as “reach back and get it” and also refers to an Asante Adinkra symbol. It is said that the symbol teaches us that we must go back to our roots in order to move forward.

The Sankofa: Connections and Collections Project focuses on two collection areas – transatlantic slavery and its legacies and black social history/black diaspora (including black maritime history).

The project is led by three of NML’s museums (International Slavery Museum, Museum of Liverpool and Merseyside Maritime Museum) as well as Bristol Museums Galleries and Archives and the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE) in Hull.

There are many missing, undocumented and significant disconnected histories to be found across the museum sector and communities they represent.

Liverpool’s collections and community-generated loans for displays in the two identified areas are broad and far reaching – from a Ku Klux Klan outfit to the boxing gown of Merseyside born John Conteh to lesser known stories of ship stowaway, swimming champion and local legend, James Clarke – the first black man in Liverpool to have a street named after him.

However, NML and its partners were aware that there are many missing, undocumented and significant disconnected histories to be found across the museum sector and communities they represent.

Both national and non-national museums are continually approached by individuals, community organisations, NGOs and partners with requests to help them understand, conserve, archive, present, digitise and in some cases loan or acquire their collections so that they are better looked after, interpreted, displayed and saved for future generations.

This project seeks to address the challenge that the whole museum community is struggling with given declining resources, the need to prioritise core activities and an increased demand for support from communities, heritage organisations, collectors and individuals.

Project Sankofa is creating a new model of partnership working which will inform how the sector, in collaboration with individuals, community organisations, NGOs and the black community, understands, conserves, collects and utilises transatlantic slavery and its legacies, black social history/black diaspora and black maritime collections and archives.

The project is supporting the development of local community collections (including small, personal or family collections), by raising awareness of their significance and by bringing them into the public domain as part of mainstream history.

NML has been supporting and delivering training, development and practical sessions for staff, communities, partners and volunteers including research, archiving, cataloguing, conservation, photography, display and interpretation.

The project will also explore how different museum and gallery disciplines can collaborate to present a thematic approach to collection research, acquisition, display and interpretation to develop and strengthen collection knowledge, use and access.

It will embed and share this best practice by creating a new resource – a digital Sankofa Portal for black history, alongside a Sankofa Resource Kit for use by the museum and heritage sector, community partners and NGOs.

In addition, this project informs the development of new spaces at Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum, which will enable visitors to engage in more education and community activity, research family history and view the museum’s latest acquisitions and developing collections.