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International Slavery Museum's second Collecting Cultures acquisition goes on display in the United States
The shackles are of the type used onboard slaver ships during the so-called ‘Middle Passage’, the second leg of what was known as the transatlantic slave trade. Photo: Courtesy of Brown University Library.

LIVERPOOL.- The International Slavery Museum in Liverpool (UK) has acquired a pair of shackles, following a funding boost to grow the collections at the Museum.

The shackles are of the type used onboard slaver ships during the so-called ‘Middle Passage’, the second leg of what was known as the transatlantic slave trade.

Enslaved Africans were forced to endure this brutal journey across the Atlantic from the West Coast of Africa to the Americas and such instruments were used to restrain and imprison enslaved Africans below decks in the ship’s hold.

The shackles will first go on display from 7 January 2016 at the John Hay Library at Brown University in the United States, on loan to the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice and the Brown University Library. The shackles will then return to the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, where they will go on display permanently at the end of this year.

The shackles are the second acquisition the International Slavery Museum has announced under the Transatlantic and Contemporary Slavery Collecting Project, part of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures programme. The Museum formerly announced the acquisition of a copper engraving by the famous British caricaturist James Gillray on 10 December 2015, International Human Rights Day.

Dr Richard Benjamin, Head of the International Slavery Museum, said: “The shackles are an important addition to the Museum’s transatlantic slave trade related collections and will eventually be displayed in our Enslavement and the Middle Passage gallery, which looks at the economics of transatlantic slavery and how enslaved Africans were forced to work on plantations in the Americas.

“The shackles, like many of the Museum’s collections, are difficult to look at and evoke strong emotions. But it is important that they are on public display so that people can tangibly experience the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade.

“A similar pair of shackles was purchased in Liverpool by the campaigner Thomas Clarkson as evidence against the transatlantic slave trade. They were presented in front of Privy Council in 1788 as part of its enquiry into the transatlantic slave trade. An engraving of the shackles with a detailed description also appeared in Clarkson’s antislavery pamphlet.”

Professor Anthony Bogues, director of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice said that “these shackles are important because they are the material objects which pressed the flesh of a human being and brings to the fore the violence of slavery. Such material objects are necessary for us to have a full and frank conversation about the character of slavery and the making of our modern world. We at the Center are honoured to be the first American institution to show these shackles and it consolidates our partnership with the International Slavery Museum.”

The International Slavery Museum highlights the international importance of enslavement and slavery, both in a historic and modern context. Working in partnership with other organisations with a focus on freedom and enslavement, the Museum also provides opportunities for greater awareness and understanding of the legacies of slavery today.

Brown University has a sustained record of engaging the painful history of slavery and its institutional legacy. In support of this commitment, the Brown University Library has developed extensive collections that promote scholarly research and community awareness of the broad genealogies of slavery. Christopher Geissler, Director of the John Hay Library, said “We are grateful for the opportunity to share this powerful physical document in the context of insurgent enslaved and abolitionist voices.”

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