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Articles for Change

Articles for Change

Articles for Change

Opening up the Slavery and Thomas Clarkson collection and archive

November 2018 - November 2021

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. The Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund is run by the Museums Association, funding projects that develop collections to achieve social impact.  The fund has awarded over £10m to 145 projects since it launched in 2011.Since its launch in 2011, it has awarded 101 projects with grants totalling nearly £8.4 in 16 funding rounds 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 is home to Thomas Clarkson's mahogany campaign chest and some of the original contents including textiles, seeds, leatherwork, arrows and metal work.
Clarkson used the chest as evidence 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.


The chest was shown to the Prime Minister William Pitt and then to the Privy Council in 1788 to accompany written evidence and witness testimonies and it accompanied Clarkson to meetings and lectures to illustrate the slave trade and suggest an alternative of trade with Africa.


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.


“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”  - Young volunteer.

 

Volunteer

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

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

 

Get in touch

Bronze Arts Award at Thomas Clarkson Academy


Activist and artist Hilary Cox Condron worked 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 inspired 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 explored 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 worked with the students to visually explore human rights issues.


The students considered what makes a good campaign and how visual art, including textiles, is used to inform, raise awareness and highlight human rights messages. They developed textile pieces weaving campaign slogans and  messages into their work. as a call to action in the fight against modern day slavery.

 


Sessions took 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 examples of West African cloth 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.

 

Seed tray analysis

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

This ground breaking research partnership will help us to map the origins of the produce in the Chest through ethnobotany and will tell us about life in West Africa and Britain, of migration of peoples and produce, chart global consumerism and explore economics in the late 18th Century. Scientific research is ongoing and we hope to update this page and publish initial findings soon.

 

 

Awards

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.



Related news

13 June 2020

Dedicated Museum Volunteers scoop top Regional Awards at virtual ceremony

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13 March 2020

Fenland anti-slavery conference cancelled due to coronavirus pandemic

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27 November 2019

Fight to end slavery exhibition tackles modern day issues at Wisbech Museum

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27 October 2020

History at Wisbech and Fenland Museum featured in Samuel L. Jackson BBC documentary

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27 November 2019

Sixth former develops museum’s anti-slavery exhibition

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4 February 2021

Wisbech Museum to hold modern slavery conference

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5 February 2021

Exploitation of vulnerable people - modern slavery - is happening in Fenland

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26 March 2021

Wisbech Museum loans Thomas Clarkson's campaign chest to Cambridge Festival exhibition

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See all our news


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