Slavery

Historic questions, thoughts and other interesting stuff

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Slavery

Postby Foxe » Fri Mar 24, 2006 7:15 pm

This is a topic which has come up on another forum I'm involved with and I'm interested to see what others here think.

Given that slavery is something which involved millions of people, of all different skin colours, over most of the world, for much of man's history, is it acceptable to portray slavery at living history events?

If it is portrayed should we treat it as we would treat any other topic and do our best to present it realistically, or would it be better to gloss over the less pleasant aspects of it?

Before anyone else answers, I obviously have my own opinions about the questions I've asked, but I must stress I have absolutely no agenda in asking them.


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Postby Mad Monk of Mitcham » Fri Mar 24, 2006 9:16 pm

Given how people have so many misconceptions about slavery, (e.g. for many it is about Africans in chains saying Baass), I feel that a realistic representation of slavery would be a good thing. Lets face it, many slaves in Roman times became important and influential, and many of the 17th C slaves were white. There were the slave raids on English and Irish villages by the Barbary pirates (many of whom were Europeans), where in some cases entire villages were taken. Even during the English civil war, those nice parlimentarians sold as slaves the royalists who were defending Colchester, after promising them a fair hearing...



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Postby guthrie » Sat Mar 25, 2006 12:44 am

Of course it should be portrayed, but you might want to leave graphic depictions of mutilation and rape out of it. You can still show the everyday stuff without too much difficulty, and implore the MOP's to imagine what it would be like being the slave.



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Postby latheaxe » Sat Mar 25, 2006 10:44 am

There is a guy on this forum who does' acw that had someone portray a slave...He may answer soon.. :wink:



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Postby Jenn » Sat Mar 25, 2006 6:25 pm

I know it's been done at Williamsburg but I think they always make sure there are non-costumed staff about to expain/warn etc
It could be done just like all the other things that we no longer find acceptable but it needs to be done carefully with plenty of fore thought (and I would say with some explanation to visitors before they come across it)
There always the danger that we might 1) trivialise it 2) or make it look acceptable in some way 3) provide a forum for people with unacceptable views (by that I mean ones that are illegal) to express them in public.
Many museums still shy away from mentioning it - although a recreation of abolistionists/sugar boycotts for example would provide a forum for talking about it without having slaves



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Postby steve stanley » Sat Mar 25, 2006 8:33 pm

First time they tried it at Williamsburg,there was a demonstration against it...until it was realised it was not being done as a cheap crowd-puller..most Reenactors I know would handle such a scenario very well...It's the Public's response that would worry me.
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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Sat Mar 25, 2006 9:13 pm

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Postby gregory23b » Sun Mar 26, 2006 5:40 pm

Depends which period, slavery comes and goes and also the definitions can include serfs which were bonded and to all intents and purposes enslaved. Similarly do we say that the dispossed Scottish farmers were treated as chattel?

Would the portrayal include information about ambivalence/dislike to the slave trade in later eras, abandoning it before it was legally outlawed?

Go for it as long as it is done right and not a pandering to stereotypes, could be a really interesting subject to cover.


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Postby Andy T » Sun Mar 26, 2006 11:39 pm

I think of all the issues this is one that is intrinsically problematical....however I suppose you would get away with endentured 'servants' (scuse the spelling) you could then reference the slavery issue without getting any hackneyed comments. It would also address the whole issue of 'but only black people were slaves' which is patently untrue.

(by which I mean to say yes its shocking that people were enslaved and that in the 18th and 19th cents they were predominantly African in origin but that slavery has been practiced (and still is to this day)for millenia and by all races using all races)


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Postby m300572 » Mon Mar 27, 2006 10:13 am

I have been a slave ('Welsh' slave to Anglos Saxons at West Stow) in my time - surprised a few visitors that slavery was a factor in that part of their history.



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Postby Ian Macintyre » Mon Mar 27, 2006 12:20 pm

I've seen slaves portrayed by a Viking group.


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Postby Phil the Grips » Mon Mar 27, 2006 1:36 pm

I've seen, been and known "slavery" done at early medieval events.

The thing is, unless someone directly asks or it is a setpiece diorama of a slave auction(which can be fun and educational at the same time), then it wasn't immediately apparent since you were just another person on the site with little to mark you out as not being a freeman (unless the public know something of the period and spots you not wearing a knife like the other folk) since there wer elaws regarding good keep of your slaves (in fact it was demed a reasonable option to volunteer into slavery to ensure that you were fed and clothed in times of extreme poverty).

It becomes far more apparent in later periods though and needs to be handled sensitively.

BTW I was at an "ethnicc senstivity" training course the other week for work and had a massive rant at them for ignoring the facts of UK slaveryand it isn't all about the colour of your skin- it's the very reason why Dublin exists for one thing!


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Postby guthrie » Mon Mar 27, 2006 11:15 pm

UK slavery?

Pardon me whilst I quote reams of Tom Johnstons book "The history of the working classes in Scotland". Oh, I seem to have lent it to a bloke at work...

Anyhoo, there was slavery in the East Lothian coal mines up until the early 19th century. Then it was banned, but the slave still had to work for 7 or so years for his master to work himself free. But this had been going on for several hundred years, indeed they have lists of names of men who were transferred along with mine ownership from the late medieval period.



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Postby Tuppence » Wed Mar 29, 2006 4:59 pm

Yes, slavery should be addressed.

It's part of history, like everything else. Hiding it is akin to holocaust denial.

obviously the nastier aspects shouldn't be actually portrayed, but those involved should be able to talk about them when they have a suitable "audience" (adults and (much) older kids who seem reasonably intelligent, for example).
Remember, real battles are inherently disgusting, but most groups don't actually show limbs being hacked off, and eyes being put out, even though they can talk about it.

Myth shattering can be nothing but a good thing. Forcing people to realise that it's an incredibly complicated issue, and that it involves, as andy says " all races" on both sides - including often being done by a member of a race or nation, to other members of the same race or nationality.

As g23b says, you get into the whole serfdom issue too - and there's also the whole issue of people in poorhouses, and women, who at varying times were technically free, but might as well have been slaves, because they had about as much choice and as many rights.

It does occur to me though, that myth exploding would be the only realistic way for re-enactors to portray slavery.
The whole 'black slave, white mas'er' idea would be hard for re-enactors to show, purely because most of us (in the UK at least) are white (by accident more than intent). I think I've only ever met about half a dozen black or asian or non-northern-european-ancestry re-enactors living in Britain.

But yes, definitely it should be shown, and talked about, and explained.

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Postby Malvoisin » Mon Apr 03, 2006 3:37 pm

Although out side the relms of reenacting/ living history, the Maritime museum in Liverpool has an exhibition on slavery and I understand plans to open a new museum, next year, dedicated to the history of slavery. 2007 being the 200th annerversary of William Wilberforces abolition of the slave trade using British ships.
http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/mari ... /index.asp


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Postby AnnieS » Sat Apr 08, 2006 3:28 pm

The William Wilberforce Museum in Hull, which is situated in Wilberforce's house on the River Hull also has a slavery exhibition. I always feel distressed when I come away after seeing what the slave trade meant.



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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Mon Apr 10, 2006 10:47 am

I did some LH stuff in Bristol recentally as early Tudor (we were there for the Matthew which needs some work done on it) and I was on the end of a nasty rant coming from a black MOp who was questioning why there were no black representatives amongst us ( which there aren't) I asked him to try joining us for the day, then another MOP mentioned that actually if he did that he would probably be a slave or a "novelty object" given the attitudes to Heathen Saracens at the time. Now I don't know if this woman was right or wrong (she was also black by the way) but by God I'm glad I didn't suggest it the fella went mental and we had to call for staff to remove him!



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Postby m300572 » Mon Apr 10, 2006 12:09 pm

I was on the end of a nasty rant coming from a black MOp who was questioning why there were no black representatives amongst us ( which there aren't) I asked him to try joining us for the day, then another MOP mentioned that actually if he did that he would probably be a slave or a "novelty object" given the attitudes to Heathen Saracens at the time. Now I don't know if this woman was right or wrong (she was also black by the way)


The person who suggested an 'authentic' role for a black person in a group is likely to be right - on the other hand we can suspend disbelief in all sorts of other ways when we re-enact so there wouold be no reason why any group couldn't have black members in 'ordinary' roles - it might be a good way of interpreting the changes in society and societies attitudes over the centuries. Pity the 'ranting MoP' wasn't restrained enough to try coming out with the group as he thereby lost a potential opportunity.

A lot of groups' membership don't reflect the modern makeup of Britains population - possibly because the ethnic minorities don't see what we do as particularly relevant to their history. Its an interesting problem (and one I am looking forward to getting a little more insight into as one group of my Heritage Interpretation class is looking at how to increase engagement with a local museum in a town with a large asian derived population).



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Postby gregory23b » Mon Apr 10, 2006 7:01 pm

Marcus re the other MOP's comment

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/path ... blanke.htm

really interesting and non-PC write up of blakc presence in England and Scotland in late medeival and Tudor times (and beyond).

John Blanke was a well paid musician amongst quite a few over the early Tudor era it would seem. see attachment

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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Mon Apr 10, 2006 8:51 pm

I could not agree with you more sir.



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Postby Lady Cecily » Tue Apr 11, 2006 9:30 am

gregory23b wrote:Marcus re the other MOP's comment

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/path ... blanke.htm



A very interesting and useful website. One of the weird things about black skinned ancestors is that they apparently dissapear.

I know I read somewhere that Lisbon and Bristol around 1800 - I think - had a black population in excess of 50%. Yet today, the black population are mostly recent imigrants.

Where have the 19th century ones gone you may ask. Aparently - intermarriage means they disappear into the white population.

I am beginning to think it's something we need to learn as white re-enactors to better engage with our black audiences.


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Postby craig1459 » Tue Apr 11, 2006 9:42 am

Lady Cecily wrote:Where have the 19th century ones gone you may ask. Aparently - intermarriage means they disappear into the white population.

I am beginning to think it's something we need to learn as white re-enactors to better engage with our black audiences.


I'm going to put my Scottish (and therefore "ethnic") hat on here
The conceptual problem I have with selling re-enactment to ethnic minorities is that it's not really viewed as being their history, especially when the make-up of the players is so over-whelmingly white and middle-class. The SK for example was completely alien to me growing up as I had no interest in English history as it was not relevant to me

How do you sell Plymouth Rock to the people on whom it landed?


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Postby Lady Cecily » Tue Apr 11, 2006 9:57 am

I agree Craig - it is very dificult - if not impossible. But does that mean we should not at least try?


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Postby Cat » Tue Apr 11, 2006 11:16 am

There's a painting in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford that depicts the interior of a church during a service. It was painted in (this is from memory, so apologies if I'm wrong) the 1480s, and shows white nobility, and a number of servants, of whom one of the two nearest to the painter is black.

Many of us portray indentured persons, scuzzy Men at Arms,servants, lower class (with apologs to the nobs out there!), so I can see absolutely no reason why a black person who wants to re-enact this timeframe should feel demeaned by portraying a lower class person.

If somebody who happens to be black wants to portray a noble, what was the situation with the Spanish Moors during the C15th? I'm asking because I don't know, not as a rhetorical question!


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Postby craig1459 » Tue Apr 11, 2006 11:25 am

Lady Cecily wrote:I agree Craig - it is very dificult - if not impossible. But does that mean we should not at least try?


Oh I agree completely we should try - the question is HOW do you make it relevant, fun and interesting?


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Postby Lady Cecily » Tue Apr 11, 2006 11:39 am

craig1459 wrote:
Lady Cecily wrote:I agree Craig - it is very dificult - if not impossible. But does that mean we should not at least try?


Oh I agree completely we should try - the question is HOW do you make it relevant, fun and interesting?


I really don't know - especially without black members to help facilitate it.


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Postby craig1459 » Tue Apr 11, 2006 12:08 pm

Lady Cecily wrote:
craig1459 wrote:
Lady Cecily wrote:I agree Craig - it is very dificult - if not impossible. But does that mean we should not at least try?


Oh I agree completely we should try - the question is HOW do you make it relevant, fun and interesting?


I really don't know - especially without black members to help facilitate it.


And without being politically correct which I think undermines a lot of good work


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Postby gregory23b » Tue Apr 11, 2006 1:28 pm

I think there is an assumption that someone's colour may dictate their cultural leanings, it may but it doesn't always, certainly not from people third or fourth generations down the line who may intermarry or not even.

Colour is not culture, as Craig points out he is a white male but has Scottish ethnicity, what if he was mixed race (colour) born and brought up in Scotland he would be only 'different' by virtue of his skin not by his accent or cultural influences (necessarily). So in reenactment terms it is most likely irrelevant as a white person from South Africa will be culturally different from a black Briton of several generations (probably). Yet what stands out is physical not cultural.

My old society alma mater had a wide range of people we covered the spectrum pretty well - by accident not design I hasten to add and it made no difference to the job at hand.

Re 18thC
Francis Barbour inherited Samuel Johnson's estate as Johnson died without heir, Barbour was his black servant, freed. His descent is a farmer somewhere in the west midlands.


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Postby Phil the Grips » Tue Apr 11, 2006 1:49 pm

Then look at Chevalier St George(aka The Black Mozart)- the son of a wealthy plantation owner and his black wife who returned to Paris to enter Society and was accepted as he progressed through his fencing, riding and music writing write up until the point that the Prima Donna of the Paris conservatoire used his skin colour to block him from accepting the highest musical postion in the land (probly cos he refused to sh*g her!). Then look at Molyneux rising in the C18th boxing world through Lord Percy bringing him back from the Americas as a servant and setting him up as a cabinet maker.

Skin colour does not denote culture or ethnicity. I was talking to a Jamaican profffessor the other day who came across with the Windrush generation and does a lot of prison work.

He keeps on being bemused by all the young men in there (all from the Lothians) throwing him complicated handshakes,using patois and talking about Jamaica as "home". By his own admission these kids are more "black" than he is :)


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Postby craig1459 » Tue Apr 11, 2006 2:09 pm

Phil the Grips wrote:He keeps on being bemused by all the young men in there (all from the Lothians) throwing him complicated handshakes,using patois and talking about Jamaica as "home". By his own admission these kids are more "black" than he is :)


We're trying to sell St George's Day to the local media at the moment. It's bloody impossible - in a World Cup year as well.

Lads of a variety of backgrounds will be running around with the three lions and the cross of St George on their shirts. :roll:


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