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‘Meet Me at the Museum’ Podcast at the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool

‘Meet Me at the Museum’ offers listeners the opportunity spend some quality time with various famous faces, joined by a good mate or family member, as they lead the way around a favourite museum of theirs. We decided to review one episode in particular, ‘Malik Al Nasir at the International Slavery Museum’. Al Nasir ‘explores the harrowing story of the transatlantic slave trade, resistance and abolition, and the enduring impact of these events on the world today’. Read on to find out what our writers made of it.

Meet Me at the Museum podcast cover art.

 Isaac

I’m a fan of interview-style podcasts and Meet Me At The Muse/um is definitely one of the most creative and well-presented I’ve listened to. The careful inclusion of background noise from seagulls and bells placed the episode squarely on the Albert Dock rather than a sterile studio or crackly Zoom call. Having the discussion built around a place and led by two friends rather than interviewer and interviewee gave the sense that the podcast was rooted in the real world with a personal relationship at its heart, and that made things much easier to follow (I have a habit of zoning out and needing to rewind my podcasts). This tone also made it a lot easier to navigate this particular episode; as Malik and Leona say – the museum tells a personal story and isn’t just for tourists. Having this personal angle run across their entire journey through the International Slavery Museum allowed me to process the full weight of the subject without getting overwhelmed.

 Malik and Leona are excellent guides. They ask insightful questions of each other and of the museum staff to learn about the history both within the museum and of the museum itself. They’re not afraid to raise challenges either; within the first few minutes Leona points out the lack of women and suggests ways it could be remedied. There’s a real engagement with the space and the subject matter which made for a super interesting listen. I’ve been to this museum several times and still learned a lot I didn’t know before. Having people with a depth of knowledge, sensitivity, and personal connections to the subject matter lead the conversation brought a lot of insight and put the museum in a new context. I think lockdown might actually have helped with this; without the usual crowd of visitors the museum becomes a much more intimate and impactful space for these kind of conversations.

 My only real criticism of the podcast is that I don’t think audio was the right format for this programme. Throughout the episode Malik and Leona keep referencing things they can see: coins, photographs, t-shirts. These objects feature prominently but aren’t available to a listener. I think I would have preferred a video documentary on YouTube or Netflix so that I could actually visualise the collection, especially since it is such an important part of the discussion. This issue was particularly apparent with the discussion of ‘The Middle Passage’; it is one of the most disturbing features of any museum, but you simply don’t get a sense of it through a podcast. I’m not sure if you could through video either, but you’d come much closer. The advantage of podcasts is that you can listen to them while doing other things, but given that Meet Me At The Museum requested my full attention I don’t think anything would be lost by using video, and a lot would be gained.

As much as I liked Meet Me At The Museum, I don’t plan on listening to more episodes any time soon. There’s nothing inherently wrong, it’s simply not what I want from a podcast. I still strongly encourage you to pick an episode that intrigues you and give it a go: I can see it becoming a new favourite for a lot of people, and at worst, it’ll inspire you to visit some brilliant museums.

The International Museum of Slavery in Liverpool (Credit: Visit Liverpool)

Eve

Echoey voices, obscure background voices, and seeming almost completely unscripted. In any other podcast, these would be the markers of a shoddy, unedited recording that would make you turn off within five minutes. Yet for the Meet Me at the Museum podcast, this is what makes it stand out amongst the crowd of slick, studio recordings that you may find elsewhere in the podcast charts.

For this episode, the podcast focuses on Malik Al Nasir and his friend Leona Vaughn as they visit Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum, guide listeners through the exhibits, and speak to the museum staff. Like I said, in most other podcasts a live and unscripted episode can feel awkward and poorly captured by audio equipment, and the energy of the hosts is lost to distracting background noises, portable microphones that are unable to pick up the speakers’ voices, or some other technical issue. However, for Meet Me at the Museum, having the speakers actually in the museums and recording their reactions to what they’re seeing in real time, rather than recalling their experiences in a professional studio afterwards, creates an incredibly immersive experience for listeners.

This feels especially effective for Malik Al Nasir’s episode as any discussion about the International Slavery Museum needs a personal and sensitive response, which may have been lost if he and Leona hadn’t been talking about slavery and it’s effects on those alive today in front of the exhibitions. A particular favourite moment of mine is when Leona recalls how her children hated visiting the museum with their school and a conversation in which her daughter declares: “We’ve got more history than just slavery. That’s not even our history, is it, Mum?” Leonna acknowledges this as a fair criticism and the brief discussion of how to acknowledge slavery without neglecting other important aspects of Black history is a reminder reminder that not everyone’s opinions of this particular museum and it’s subject matter may be captured in this episode, but that it doesn’t mean they are less valued. Overall, it works as a great starting point for a bigger discussion around how museums can explore colonial and racist history in an informative yet sensitive manner, and leaves listeners with plenty to think about without exhausting them.

I am doubtful there could be a better podcast for you to listen to in our current world. For a start, the topics discussed, of Black history, slavery, and its effects in modern Britain, are all incredibly pertinent in today’s world since last year’s Black Lives Matter protests. Furthermore, the podcast’s structure allows listeners to still experience a museum, but without having to tackle accessibility issues, geographical distance, COVID restrictions, or anything else that could prevent them from visiting in person. I, for one, cannot wait to visit museums up and down the country, all from the comfort of my bedroom.

Malik Al Nasir (Credit: United Agents)

Saskia

This podcast was unlike any podcast I have listened to before. I don’t know what it says about me that I have habitually shied away from the more culturally rich offerings of my Spotify Podcasts tab. That said, I don’t want to narrow down what Meet Me at the Museum is achieving here to ‘culturally rich’. It feels like more than that. It is much more of an aural experience than a commentary, which is what I had been expecting. Listening to the audio of men, women and children crying out in the bowels of a ship, and the sound of the ocean as the ship travels across the ocean, delivering slaves along the Slave Triangle, immediately made my chest tighten. I almost think the lack of a visual element here, only being able to listen to the audio, alongside Malik Al Nasir and Leona Vaughn, heightened that sense of claustrophobia. I couldn’t see anything, which felt horribly fitting. 

That is, however, probably where I find my first critique of the podcast overall. It felt very visually rich: when I closed my eyes I felt I could see the images in front of me, but it seemed a shame that I couldn’t see what Al Nasir and Vaughn could see. When they referenced something that they could see, the layout of a room or specific object, I felt like my own experience of the museum was lacking when I couldn’t have that same level of engagement. I can’t help but think a visual element is like the last key element missing. 

I found the conversation around museums’ responsibility in engaging with the contemporary moment really interesting. Dr. Richard Benjamin, the Director of the Slavery Museum, said, ‘Museum’s are not neutral spaces, you take a stance.’ This intrigued me. It was a pleasantly refreshing stance, I thought, coming from a director of an established museum. I certainly didn’t feel it reflected my experience of coming to museums on school trips in primary and secondary school. Even before Benjamin appears, Al Nasir and Vaughn very much interact with the museum and its contents, actively questioning things and suggesting possible improvements to aspects of the museum. Surely this is what all museum spaces should be encouraging. Active engagement and critiquing. 

When I was moving around the British Museum aged 11, on a school trip, surrounded by my peers, everything loomed above me. Information plaques told the definitive truth. I believed everything I saw was meant to be there. It didn’t occur to me until at least five years later that museums could steal. I hadn’t been taught to question how these things came to be here. 

Al Nasir and Vaughn’s conversation brings humanity to the excerpts and stories I imagine when I close my eyes. The ones that exist in any museum, printed on walls or plaques beside looming exhibits. The ones that I used to think told the objective truth. It’s reassuring to think that these plaques might be becoming more speculative, less omniscient—or maybe disappear all together—as museums start to acknowledge that their role in culture and society is beginning change to something more interactive, and less definitive. 

I really enjoyed the atmosphere of this episode, it was wholly unique. I’ll definitely be giving the rest of the podcast episodes a listen.

You can find the ‘Meet Me at the Museum’ podcast on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

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