Reflections of the Past


Natalie Johnson-Tyghter

This project examines the contested legacy and meaning of abolition, and its commemoration. While travelling in both England and Canada, we were not only able to visit and explore various sites of memory, but were also able to speak with curators, historians, and authors who all provided a different lens through which to view this contested part of our past. Examples include having the portrait of Lord Mansfield, William Murray, presented to us by a museum curator. Mansfield ruled in the Somerset Case of 1772 that masters could not forcibly remove their slaves from Britain, and send them out of the country. History remembers Mansfield as a friend to abolition, and particularly remembers his mixed race grand-niece, who he brought into his household and doted on. However, there are aspects of Mansfield that are not celebrated, not well-known, not part of the celebrated history of abolition and its allies. And it was through further research that I discovered that Mansfield personally believed that abolition and emancipation would destabilize the British economy too much for it to be pursued. Mansfield was just one of the many portraits or profiles I saw while I was in England, and whose commemoration I contrasted with research I did on my own. Furthermore, there is a very big difference between a portrait in a London or Bristol museum, and a plaque on an otherwise unremarkable building down a side street in Bath. An irreplaceable benefit of this trip was the opportunity to speak with people who could reveal sites that were not situated directly in the public eye. Professor Richard White took us through many of these sites throughout the city of Bath. Prominent abolitionists William Wilberforce and Hannah Moore have small plaques in Bath that barely say anything other than their name, meaning the only people meant to appreciate the plaques are those who already know who these people are, and can then, look favourably on Bath for associating itself with them. But sites of prominent slavery depots in Bath, run by lesser known abolitionists like Emma Sophia Mundy, have no commemoration whatsoever. For my project I photographed these sites, these portraits, that I had the opportunity to go and see, and posted the pictures on a blog along with commentary. This commentary is a mixture of what local experts told us, what historical research tells us, and of my own opinions as a history student, and someone who has learned abolition in various forms over many years.  I can’t stress enough, there is nothing quite like walking the streets, walking through these sites, and having that dialogue with the memories. And for that reason, this trip was absolutely indispensable.