Migration & Manchester Museum

Over the past several months I’ve been recording more films that focus on the role museums can play in better understanding migration. This is part of Manchester Museum’s thematic collecting project, a project that is seeking to revitalise museum collecting by centring it on immediate contemporary issues [http://bit.ly/16WpOEz]. The films feature University of Manchester students, both past and present, who are passionate about both migration and the changing nature of 21st century museums.

In this first film Benjamina Dadzie shares her thoughts with us about using museum collections and spaces to contend with challenging issues and stimulate conversation.

Petra, Borders & Boundaries

This is the last film in my current thematic collecting and migration series, many thanks to Dr Petra Tjitske Kalshoven, lecturer in Social Anthropology at The University of Manchester, for participating.

In 2016 I’ll be back with more thematic collecting films!

Tracey, Manchester & Multiculturalism

Here’s my second Thematic Collecting short film featuring Tracey Zengeni. Tracey’s collaborated with Manchester Museum over several years on a multitude of projects and it was fascinating to hear her thoughts:

I’ve got one more film to share with you from this current series so watch this space!

Student Engagement with the Living Cultures Collection


Students from the East Asian Studies programme explore highlight objects from the Museum’s Chinese collections led by Stephen Welsh, Curator of Living Cultures and Dr Pierre Fuller, Lecturer in East Asian History

Students are introduced to the Museum’s collections as part of formal teaching programmes in several different departments across the university. Our curators and conservators deliver teaching on many courses, both in the classroom and in the museum itself. In recent visits to the Living Cultures stores from students on the Archaeology, Social Anthropology and East Asian Studies courses, we have aimed to inspire students to carry out research using the collections. There are many objects in the collections which would make fascinating topics for original research, as we only know a very small amount about their histories.


Christian Pollard, (pictured, left), visited the Anthropology Collection stores as part of a seminar for the East Asian Studies programme in December 2014:

“We got to see some really interesting artefacts enhanced by having the curator there to guide us through the objects. It was certainly a worthwhile trip for anyone who is simply interested in finding out more about history or for someone thinking about a dissertation topic in need of an interesting, and maybe even unstudied, artefact.

Thank you very much for having us, I really enjoyed being able to get a look at something physical as opposed to documents.”

Students also engage with the museum collections through work placements, volunteering or as part of extra-curricular societies. Recently, I was asked to run a workshop for ArchSoc, the University of Manchester’s Archaeology Society, to introduce cataloguing and collections management to a small group of undergraduate students from across three year groups. As well as showing the group a small section of our stores ‘behind the scenes’, I also gave them the chance to have a go at writing a simple catalogue record for an object. This allowed us to discuss the importance of recording context and provenance, and of effective collections management in the museum setting.


Students from the University of Mancheser’s Archaeology Society have a go at cataloguing using objects in the collection

There are many ways in which the work of the Museum overlaps and collaborates with its academic colleagues in other departments in the University; from showcasing research through the temporary exhibition programme, to hosting talks, conferences and events. Our collections include field collections from Manchester’s academics and students, and are informed by their research. We aim to engage and inspire students wherever possible, showing that there are many different ways to use the collections, and many relevant contemporary conversations to be had around our historic objects.

Slavery: Portrayal, Research & Legacy

Quentin Tarantino’s much vaunted and equally as criticised film Django Unchained! has reignited the debate about the portrayal, understanding and legacy of enslavement and the enslaved. Beyond Hollywood UK museums and universities have been engaged with the history of the transatlantic slave trade since the 2007 bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, and some well before. The project Revealing Histories was one such engagement and Manchester Museum was a key contributor,  http://www.revealinghistories.org.uk/home.html. Most recently several contemporary projects, some of which are discussed below, have emerged to further our comprehension of the impact and affect of slavery.

The 1806 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act prohibited further enslavement but those already enslaved were not  freed. In 1833 the Slavery Abolition Act conferred a quasi-state of freedom on the enslaved throughout the British Caribbean, Mauritius and the Cape. This so-called emancipation resulted in handsome compensation for slave-owners, £20 million in total, who claimed they had been ‘economically disadvantaged’ as a consequence. The University College London project Legacies of British Slave-ownership has finally completed the full digitisation of compensation claims all of which of now available to search on-line at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/

This label was used on the ship Kelvin, which was loaded with cotton picked by enslaved African-Americans in 1865. The ship left Galveston, Texas, USA, and arrived in Liverpool, UK. The cotton was bought by a Bolton merchant. Brass. USA. Mr. J. Wilkinson. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2013.

This label was used on the ship Kelvin, which was loaded with cotton picked by enslaved African-Americans in 1865. The ship left Galveston, Texas, USA, and arrived in Liverpool, UK. The cotton was bought by a Bolton merchant. Brass, USA, Mr. J. Wilkinson. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2013.

Complimentary to this the Centre for the Study of International Slavery (CSIS) has recently launched a master’s degree course in International Slavery Studies. CSIS is a partnership between the University of Liverpool and National Museums Liverpool and promotes research into both historic and contemporary enslavement. You can find out more about the course at http://www.liv.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/taught/faculty-of-humanities-and-social-sciences/school-of-histories-languages-and-cultures/history/taught/international-slavery-studies-ma/overview/

Here at the University of Manchester Professor Simon Gikandi of Princeton University, a widely published expert on slavery, race, post-colonialism and African and Caribbean literature, will deliver a public seminar tomorrow entitled Race and the Problem of Modern Time. The event has been organised by English and American Studies and will no doubt prove insightful.

Meme See, Meme Do

Over the past several months no-one, not even United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, escaped the infectious K-pop sensation that was Gangam Style. What seemed equally as infectious was the desire by thousands, if not millions, of people across the globe to produce their own, increasingly outlandish, versions of the associated music video. Even Chinese artist Ai Weiwei utilised it to great subversive affect.

This seemingly absurd and comical behaviour is actually quite a crucial exercise in human behaviour and the spread of culture. A meme is a form of expression or way of thinking that is passed from one person to another within a particular culture or society. In the past this used to occur on a local, regional or national level, but with the advent of worldwide mass telecommunications this can now happen on a global scale. The spread of such memes via the internet is often described as viral and continues to prove both popular and irresistible, particularly within the field of amateur music videos. The latest craze is Harlem Shake as illustrated by our very own University of Manchester students…

A Very British Bark

Over the past several months I’ve been working closely with colleagues from the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, the University of Manchester, to produce our latest temporary exhibition Breed: The British and their Dogs. This fascinating exhibition is a cultural exploration of  pedigree dog breeding, a phenomenon which began in 19th century Britain, and focuses on the captivating histories of six specific breeds.

With only four weeks to go before we open on Saturday 6th October objects are beginning to arrive from a whole host of generous lenders including museums, libraries, and dog breeding clubs. The exhibition combines a wonderful array of objects including decorative art, social history and natural science. There will be over one hundred objects on display, each of which illustrate the enduring and affectionate relationship between Britons and their dogs.

The bulldog holds a particularly prominent place in British history and is one of the six focus breeds. It has been portrayed as both sinner and saint over the past several centuries and the exhibition charts this variable status. Salford Museum has very kindly loaned us a  late 19th century jug  which depicts the rather disturbing role of the bulldog as used in bear-bating. The use of the bulldog in this now illegal blood sport earned it a fearsome and ferocious reputation.

Bear-baiting jug. UK, 19th century, porcelain. Salford Museum.

Over the next several weeks I’ll share more of the fantastic objects destined for display with you and reveal more about the remaining five focus breeds!