The Manchester Museum, like many other Victorian institutions, continued the racist way of thinking that had emerged during the transatlantic slave trade, using objects and exhibtions to promote myths about race. Objects were collected and exhibited to try and prove that European culture was superior to any other. The source communities from which these objects came were not allowed to provide the correct explanation of their use or cultural significance.
This is no longer the way that modern museums work, and increasing numbers of them are beginning to grapple with their contentious history and Victorian legacy.
Do you think museums have changed enough? What changes would you like to see?
Debates have been raging for centuries over the ethnic origin of the people who created and ruled Ancient Egypt. Many museums portrayed the Ancient Egyptians, and their civilisation, as having more in common with Europe than Africa. However, more recent lines of thinking have challenged this view, claiming that Ancient Egypt was in fact Black African in origin.
Is the race of ancient Egyptians important?
The transatlantic slave trade has been seen as the point in history at which racist myths became scientifically and culturally legitimate, in order to justify the horrific treatment of many millions of Africans. In the ancient world, racism as we know it today, seemed to be much less prevalent.
Do you think the transatlantic slave trade was the origin of racism?
Many organisations and individuals throughout Manchester’s history have striven to challenge racism. The exhibtion has a programme, and delegate badges, kindly loaned by Working Class Movements Library, from the seminal 1945 Pan African Congress held in Manchester. This particular Congress spearheaded the decolonisation of Africa and was attended by some of the most influential leaders in African history, from Kwame Nkrumah to Jomo Kenyatta.
Do you know of any other ways in which racism has been challenged in Manchester?