Saturday, 4 October 2014

Museum'd out

It was back to the Museum of Liverpool this morning to check out a section that my best beloved had missed yesterday, and then on to the Maritime Museum and the Museum of Slavery, which occupy the same building in the Albert Dock area.

Both museums have multiple references to Liverpool's history. Our time in the first was spent mostly downstairs in the sections dealing with the city as a focus for migration to the Antipodes or the New World, and with Customs and Excise. We were invited to shudder at the conditions suffered by passengers who could only afford to travel in "steerage", and to to be outraged by those today who attempt to smuggle rare species or products derived from them.

The Museum of Slavery is a brave attempt at facing up to Liverpool's historical involvement in this appalling thing, on which so much of the city's wealth was built, but it looks far more widely than that. It concentrates on analysing the nature of, and rationale for, the African slave trade, and its aftermath to the present day. It invites shock and shame, and plenty of thoughtful reflection. I would have liked it, firstly, to have more about the reality of today's slaveries and, secondly, to be more up-front about the complicity of local traders who sold their fellow Africans to the Europeans. On the other hand, the links between the African trade and contemporary racism are well brought out, and less well known aspects of the story (the place of St Helena, for example) are included.

There's only so much museum-ing you can do in one day. Tomorrow we'll see whether our legs can handle a visit to the Tate.

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