Representing Enslavement and Abolition in Museums, edited by Laurajane Smith, Geoff Cubitt, Kalliopi Fouseki and Ross Wilson, was vital to me throughout my master’s dissertation, which I wrote on the topic of the interpretation of enslavement in the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool.
Cubitt’s chapter on Atrocity Materials and the Representation of Transatlantic Slavery was of particular use to me. This is because when I became a museum learning assistant I was asked to lead a tour on objects and their connection to colonialism and enslavement.
This book really helped me to recognise and appreciate the notion of “compassion fatigue” and the “relic-like” connotations sometimes associated with atrocity materials. And in order to deliver a successful, engaging and forward-thinking tour, I had to understand these concepts and how they could be overcome.
And it all led to passionate discussions on the correct way to display these objects in a traditionally western museum. Through my work as a learning assistant I continue to consider the importance of displaying atrocity materials correctly, including when I deliver object-handling sessions using items from the time when our museum was a prison.
If you finish reading a book and feel something – anything – I think it has done its job as a successful read, and this was certainly the case with this publication.
Although I am just starting out in the museum sector, I know I will keep the words of Representing Enslavement with me wherever my career takes me.