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Articles for Change

Articles for Change

Articles for Change

Transatlantic Slavery and Human Rights centered on the work of Thomas Clarkson

10th June - 18th June 2020

Articles for Change explores Transatlantic Slavery and Human Rights centred on the work of Thomas Clarkson from his roots in Wisbech and Cambridge to his campaign trail and beyond. The project is, through research and improved collection care, opening-up the collection for investigation by younger people and the local community, for creative response by artists and is also continuing to initiate collaborations with museums and universities with other important anti-slavery collections.

The Thomas Clarkson collection has particular resonance in its link with modern slavery taking place within Cambridgeshire and the wider region. Our aim has been to use the collection to raise awareness among local communities and further afield of current human rights issues and also to link and connect with local and international organisations and individuals working to combat modern slavery.


Articles for Change is building sustainability through training volunteers in collection care and learning and we aim to use this project as a model for developing collections towards co-curation, collaborations and access through inclusive programming and worldwide research.


The Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund is run by the Museums Association, funding projects that develop collections to achieve social impact. Since its launch in 2011, it has awarded 101 projects with grants totalling nearly £8.4 in 16 funding rounds. Between 2017 and 2019 it is offering a total of £3.5m in grants to Museums Association members, as well as providing events and resources for the whole sector. Visit the Museums Association website by clicking here.

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Articles for Change Collection

The Wisbech & Fenland Museum and Thomas Clarkson anti-slavery collection holds his mahogany campaign chest and some of its original contents including textiles, seeds, leatherwork, arrows and metal work.
Clarkson used the chest with its examples of textiles, leather and produce from West Africa in his campaign to bring about real change as part of his work and the wider Anti- Slavery Movement in Britain which led to the passing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807.

It was shown to the Prime Minister William Pitt and then to the Privy Council to accompany written evidence and witness testimonies and it accompanied Clarkson to meetings and lectures and it was to illustrate the slave trade and suggest an alternative through trade with West African producers.

The collection also holds significant correspondence from and to Thomas Clarkson as well as letters from supporters and the Anti-Slavery Society and evidence of the slave trade bequeathed to the Museum from numerous donors. Notable correspondence includes Thomas Clarkson’s lobbying for reparations for enslaved Africans and also for halting the apprenticeship system following emancipation in 1833.

Books and pamphlets written by Thomas Clarkson are held within the Museum Library and a contemporary archive of publications, commemorative material, resources from previous exhibitions and related objects and learning resources and material.


Sarah, Teresa, Douglas, Lisa, Helena, Madeleine, Anna, Gividas and Caroline.

“The experience has been insightful and inspiring.
I enjoyed giving back to the community and working to educate people on such a significant issue which is representative of the history of Wisbech.”



We are always looking for volunteers and have several collections and learning roles available within the Articles for Change Project.

For an informal chat with a member of the team, please get in touch.


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Bronze Arts Award at Thomas Clarkson Academy

Activist and artist Hilary Cox Condron is working with Year 10 Textile Art students at Thomas Clarkson Academy in Wisbech.

Thomas Clarkson was pioneering in using the chest as a travelling museum and visual aid to influence public opinion. It is a familiar object to many school children, as one of the 100 museum objects to teach history online and also in lessons in school.

This project is inspiring young people, by exploring local culture, to develop themselves as artists and activists. Wisbech has a rich history of social justice, being the birthplace of Clarkson and Octavia Hill. Through artist-led workshops we are exploring how objects in the chest, the arts and personal stories can evoke empathy and understanding by comparing Clarkson’s campaign to current anti-slavery campaigns and working with the students to visually explore human rights issues.

The students have considered what makes a good campaign and how visual art, including textiles, is used to inform, raise awareness and highlight human rights messages. They are developing textile pieces weaving campaign slogans and self-care messages into their work.

The students are constructing a textile based public installation which reflects the story of Thomas Clarkson’s campaign and is a call to action in the fight against modern day slavery.

Sessions take place at the Museum and Thomas Clarkson Academy, Wisbech.

Letter hunt

During lockdown we reached out to networks of archives, libraries and museums across the country in a nationwide search for correspondence from Thomas Clarkson held in collections.


A volunteer has been researching and tracing the sources and developing a list which we hope will be useful to researchers looking at our collection.


Some repositories have recently catalogued correspondence and many, like us, do not have a searchable catalogue online so these resources are hard to locate for researchers. We are delighted to have a part in building a greater picture of holdings.

Textile research

The textiles in Thomas Clarkson’s campaign chest are some of the earliest surviving examples of cloth held in a museum collection.

In a joint scientific research project working with specialists Dr Malika Kraamer and Dr Margerita Gleba, with funding from St John’s College Cambridge and the Society of Antiquaries, we are beginning to discover through scientific analysis where threads and dyes were made and how the fabrics were constructed.

This research is important because Thomas Clarkson did not visit Africa himself and we know from his writing that he purchased the textiles for his collection when visiting a merchant’s trading ship, the Lively in London and also a merchant’s ship in Bristol.

This research is helping us to build a picture about the craftspeople who made the textiles and the heritage of textile production in West Africa.

Seed tray analysis

We are delighted to be able to look closer at the contents of the seed tray with the help of a partnership with Kew and Cambridge Botanic Gardens.


Scientific research is ongoing and we hope to publish initial findings soon.


Young volunteers Anna and Gvidas won the Teams category of the regional SHARE Museums East Volunteer Awards 2020 for their outstanding contribution as community co-curators developing the exhibition Anti-Slavery Campaigns which ran from 12 November to 21 December 2019.


Visit our learning space to download more resources on slavery and abolition.

Click here

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