The International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition falls on 23 August.
To mark this date, Hartwig Fischer and Sushma Jansari are joined by guests Olivette Otele and Bonnie Greer to discuss the legacies of slavery, its impact on today’s society, and how museums should respond to these histories both now and in the future.
The wide-ranging conversation touches on how the British Museum engages with its own history, how it was shaped by empire, questions who ‘writes’ history, and reflects on how museums and institutions can widen access, increase diversity and co-curate effectively.
Bonnie Greer is a writer, playwright, broadcaster, critic and political commentator, and former Deputy Chair of the British Museum.
Olivette Otele is Professor of the History of Slavery at Bristol University and Vice-President of the Royal Historical Society and the Chair for Bristol’s Race Equality Commission.
In 1753, Sir Hans Sloane bequeathed his collection of over 70,000 objects to the nation, founding the British Museum’s collection, and those that would become the British Library and Natural History Museum.
His collection spanned from natural history specimens to ancient sculpture, plants and contemporary 18th-century objects. But Sloane’s collecting is tied closely to colonialism, empire and slavery – his family profited from sugar plantations in Jamaica worked by enslaved people, and some of the objects in his collection were also collected with assistance from enslaved people. So how do we navigate Sloane’s story in the 21st century?
Guests Miranda Lowe and James Delbourgo explore Sloane’s life, collecting and legacy with Hartwig Fischer and Sushma Jansari, and examine the role of slavery and enslaved people in his collection and collecting practices. They also consider how museums should respond to these histories and to figures like Sloane.
Miranda Lowe is Principal Curator and museum scientist at the Natural History Museum.
James Delbourgo is the James Westfall Thompson Distinguished Professor of History at Rutgers University, New Jersey.