Digital Project Launch: Legacies on Display

Today (3rd December 2018) marks the launch of our newest digital project. ‘Legacies on Display: Slavery in Museums’ is a showcase of museums around the world that engage with and interpret slavery in their permanent displays. The first of its kind, the collection brings these institutions together using an interactive map.

Museums are exciting places to see the ‘usable past’ in action. They bring together objects, people and places, and prompt discussions unable to be had elsewhere in our communities. The aims of the ‘Legacies on Display’ collection were to create a resource for researchers, and the general public, that physically locates museums that permanently interpret slavery in their displays and exhibitions, as well as to raise the profile of the museums themselves. It also provides a wider insight into how museums in different places engage with the subject of slavery- what objects do they have? What are the key themes that they identify? Who’s voices feature in the display? The collection also provides an opportunity to reflect on the role of the twenty-first-century museum; specifically in how museums address challenging histories and their legacies in the contemporary world.

Each museum is listed with a description about the organisation and its displays, including its collections and narratives. These were researched using a combination of site visits and desk-based analysis. Key findings from the collection show a geographic spread of ‘slavery museums’ across six continents, and include a range of institutions; from renovated slave forts in West Africa, former plantations in America and purpose-built national institutions in the Caribbean, to port city museums in the UK. There are different forms of slavery covered, across five hundred years of history to the present day. There is a significant number of museums around the Atlantic world (Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas) that focus on transatlantic slavery and its legacies. Another notable finding is the disparity of resources amongst museums, particularly between those in lesser economically developed countries and those not, specifically in terms of their online presence.

Highlights from the collection include:

  • Wilberforce House Museum, Hull, UK– The world’s oldest slavery museum and home of Britain’s most famous abolitionist, William Wilberforce.
  • The National Museum of African American History, Washington D.C, USA- Described by its director Dr Lonnie Bunch as ‘a museum for all Americans,’ the museum firmly embeds the history of slavery with the development of the USA as a nation.
  • Bin Jelmood House, Doha, Qatar- The only museum in the Arab world that addresses slavery, with a particular focus on the enslavement of people across the Middle East.
  • House of Slaves, Gorée Island, Senegal- A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, the renovated former slave fort features the poignant ‘door of no return’ through which enslaved Africans were forced onto ships bound for the Americas or the Caribbean.
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site, Ontario, Canada- The museum is located on the site where the Rev. Josiah Henson set up a settlement for the many fugitives from slavery in the USA who fled to Canada. Harriet Beecher Stowe based her protagonist, Uncle Tom, on Henson.

The collection is fully searchable via the interactive map, or key words such as the name of the museum or the country in which it is located. Each museum is also tagged with key themes that can be searched, in addition to any organisations it may be involved in, such as the Federation of International Human Rights Museums, or the International Coalition for Sites of Conscience.

To browse the collection in full visit:

If you have any queries, comments or suggestions for additional museums contact


About rebeccanelson1

Currently a PhD student at the University of Hull, part of a project concerning the usable past of anti-slavery movements for the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation. My research interests lie in what is the role of the museum and how museums confront difficult or controversial histories and relay them to their audiences. I will be conducting research in museums to investigate how historic collections are employed by museums in encouraging visitors to engage not just with narratives of the past but also contemporary issues.

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