The role of Museums in constructing our understanding of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

As I worked on gathering pertinent words that will appear in the index of my forthcoming book: The Journal of Captain Thomas Phillips of Brecon, the Slave Ship Hannibal, and all who Sailed on Her (1693-1695) the key word ‘museum’ appears on my list. Why had a word associated with exhibition interjected itself into a narrative of events that had occurred nearly 330 years ago?

To answer this question, I refer to the plaque commissioned by Brecon Town Council in 2010 to honour the life of the slave trader Phillips, due to his journal writings. Remarkably, this plaque, which once occupied a public space, found a new home, first in the river Usk, and then within the confines of Y Gaer, Brecon Museum, where it resides in storage rather than on public exhibition. (For further insights into the Brecon Plaque, please refer to our previous articles on the subject).

In a section of my book, I carry out a critical examination of airbrushed history, particularly in light of the recent exposure of Welsh involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The history of which is now included in the new Welsh Schools curriculum and with Welsh government support in addressing a reassessment of Welsh history. Having now discovered that the commemorative plaque to Phillips remains conspicuously absent from public view at Y Gaer, Brecon Museum, I now find myself regretting not probing deeper at the time of writing the book into museology’s ‘zone of obligation and responsibility’ to rectify and decolonise exhibits and interpretation.



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