The Manchester Museum, University of Manchester



The origins of the Manchester Museum lie in the late 1700s. The wealth that made it all possible was created by the international textile trade, which depended on the transatlantic slave trade for plantation workers. The search for knowledge and improvement in medicine, science and art that drove the development of the world's first industrial city also fuelled a desire to collect and display the wonders of the world.

The appearance of the displays has not fundamentally changed since the museum's Victorian beginnings. Back then, the museum's role was to tell the story of the world, revealing a single, authoritative truth to its audience. The Revealing Histories project challenged the Euro-centric focus in the museum's history, and raised questions to encourage visitors to question what they see.

As a university museum, The Manchester Museum aims to provoke a debate and reflection. The museum welcomed the Revealing Histories: Remembering Slavery project as an opportunity to continue uncovering the museum's historic involvement in the creation and maintenance of British imperial power and critically assessing the museum's role in a post-colonial world.

Researchers in The Manchester Museum uncovered some unexpected links between objects in the collection and the transatlantic slave trade. These include plant specimens collected by cotton workers who may have supported abolition; bird skins and eggs donated by Henry Dresser, a secret agent in the American Civil War; and Nigerian sculptures made after the transatlantic slave trade was abolished.

These connections show that all our lives are intertwined however far apart we are in time or space. Attitudes and opportunities today are still shaped by events that took place centuries ago. Revealing Histories reminds us that many uncomfortable aspects of our past can become conveniently forgotten. Revealing them means we can be vigilant in future.