PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A pair of slavery shackles on loan from the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool will be on display in the John Hay Library at Brown University through March 13, 2016. The shackles, recently acquired by the museum, are of a type used to transport captured Africans to slavery in the Americas, part of the “Middle Passage” of the transatlantic slave trade.
“These shackles ... pressed the flesh of a human being and bring to the fore the violence of slavery. Such material objects are necessary for us to have a full and frank conversation about the character of slavery and the making of our modern world,” said Anthony Bogues, the Asa Messer Professor of Humanities and Critical Theory and director of Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice. “We at the center are honored to be the first American institution to show these shackles. The exhibit consolidates our partnership with the International Slavery Museum.”
The shackles, a material artifact of the slave trade, were also a powerful weapon in campaigns to end the transatlantic slave trade. In 1788 the activist Thomas Clarkson presented a similar pair of shackles before the Privy Council in Liverpool and used an engraving as part of his antislavery pamphlet.
“The shackles ... are difficult to look at and evoke strong emotions,” said Richard Benjamin, head of the International Slavery Museum, “but it is important that they are on public display so that people can tangibly experience the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade.”
The International Slavery Museum and Brown’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice are collaborative partners in the Global Curatorial Project on Slavery, which also includes the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and leading institutions in Belgium, the Netherlands, Senegal, France, and South Africa. The project seeks to establish international programs focused on the histories of slavery and the making of the modern world.
In 2003, Brown University President Ruth J. Simmons appointed a Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, which investigated and issued a public report on the University’s historical relationship to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. The University has taken a number of steps to continue that work, creating the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice and expanding the library collections that sustain scholarship and promote community understanding of these difficult issues.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to share this powerful physical document in the context of insurgent enslaved and abolitionist voices,” said Christopher Geissler, director of the John Hay Library.
The exhibit, in the lobby of the John Hay Library, 20 Prospect St., is open to the public without charge. Winter hours for the public are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Normal hours, which will resume at the start of the next semester on Wednesday, Jan. 27, are Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.