History and Public Memorialization of Slavery and the Slave Trade: Liverpool – Nantes

UGA and Liverpool colleagues on the final day of the visit

Delegates and speakers recently attended the ‘History and Public Memorialisation of Slavery and the Slave Trade: Liverpool – Nantes’ symposium organised by the Centre for the Study of International Slavery (a partnership between the University and the International Slavery Museum) and the Institute for Black Atlantic Research (UCLAN).

The two-day event, held at the International Slavery Museum, was designed to compare the different practices of commemoration undertaken in Liverpool and Nantes as well as discuss the problems they have faced, their relative successes and the future of the public memorialisation in old slaving ports. The conference broached larger questions and wider contexts including the conceptual issues of representing bondage and the transatlantic trade in people to a public audience that has its own ideas of what slavery is and was.

Both cities have inaugurated major projects to remember their slave trading histories, from the opening of International Slavery Museum in Liverpool in 2007 to the recent Nantes Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery (2012). The conceptualisation of these sites of memory, their reception by local inhabitants and their wider relevance to commemoration practices were discussed by a range of delegates including historians, artists who were involved in the Commemoration for the Abolition of Slavery (2007), journalists, museum curators and professionals.

There were further panel discussion about the roles of art and historical research in evoking memory as well as panels that focused on the two localities of Liverpool and Nantes. This allowed for a comparison between the two places and also encouraged delegates to consider the transnational aspect of slavery memorialisation; reflecting on the practicalities and problems faced when striving towards the full incorporation of slavery’s legacies into local, national and international histories. The transnational aspect of slavery and its afterlives was the particular focus of the symposium’s keynote speaker, Professor David Richardson who spoke on the dynamics of the transatlantic slave trade, how it is recalled, and how it came to be.

The conference successfully brought together researchers and practitioners from across Europe and the United States to exchange opinions, ideas and works of art. The two port cities of Liverpool and Nantes were drawn closer together and plans were made to hold a similar event next year in Nantes.   The symposium highlighted both the complexities and tensions that exist in acts of commemorating transatlantic slavery as well as the importance of collaboration, discussion and interdisciplinarity when dealing with these issues.

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