Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Entries Tagged as 'Azul'

The Past is Always Present

September 2nd, 2009 · No Comments

London is a city where the past is constantly present. What do I mean by that? Different countries maintain a dialogue with their history in a different way. Some countries are older than others. For example, in Argentina, where I come from, there are some plaques and monuments, but not so many as in England. One of the obvious reasons is because Argentina is a much younger country of only 200 years, and therefore has less history. But I do not think this is the main reason. In London, I get a feeling that time is cyclical, and that history comes back to us in many forms and shapes. We see it present on the street, in houses, in museums, in pubs and in its people.

During our trip, Prof. Qualls has been using the word juxtaposition. Indeed, in London we have found that not only architecture presents juxtaposed old and new buildings, but also different situations, like the helicopters during our play at the Globe theatre. I want to use a more complicated word which I am not sure if I made up since I am translating it from Spanish: trans-textuality. By this I mean the dialogue between two texts or two authors. While this is common in literature since most texts have their foundations on previous texts, it is a technique that is most common in Shakespeare and that I’ve been founding in London in general. This idea that if we build a new building, we will find the remains of others. Like we saw on our Roman walking tour. If a family moves to a new house, they will probably discover who lived there, like we saw in our Bloomsbury walking tour, and the many plaques saying the personalities who lived in the different houses. If I go see a play, trans-textuality is always there. It can be Troilus and Cressida, a story built inside another story (the Trojan war), or Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard, which also dialogues with the past and real life English characters such as Lord Byron. 

Being in a city as old as London makes me constantly question about the past, from who has lived in what we now know as the Arran House Hotel, to what will my mark be, as the story of London progresses.

Tags: Azul

Date in London

September 2nd, 2009 · No Comments

Although this is not a post about our sightseeing, I wanted to share with everyone my first date in London! I went out to have dinner this week to a great Italian restaurant on a street full of pubs and places to eat, called Exmouth Market. I took the Metropolitan line in Euston to go to Farringdon station, where I walked down a beautiful area from where you could see St. Paul’s cathedral. My date was waiting for me at Wilmington Square, a residential area with charming flats, right next to Exmouth Market. I could tell that the whole area was very posh and trendy, not only because of the people that were there, but also because it was so crowded for a weekday! Not that I don’t like Bloomsbury, but if I had to choose where to live in London, I would definitely choose around Exmouth Market!

Tags: Azul

Applying some more Museum Studies theory

September 2nd, 2009 · No Comments

I had already been in the British Museum. This time however, I went in very aware that I was walking into a “universal survey museum”. In my Museum Studies class, I read an extremely interesting article by Alan Wallach and Carol Duncan (1980). These neo-marxists authors analyze particularly the Louvre Museum in Paris. Universal survey museums such as the Louvre or the British Museum, have become icons of the cities in which they are located. The author’s thesis is that these museums are the “secular temples” of present day. Museums render cult to knowledge. They represent rationalism and enlightenment. These Museums themselves are built as if they were Greek temples. The British Museum has barely anything British in it. Its collection is one of the biggest universal surveys in the world in that it contains the most valued items of different civilizations. What best example of rationalism than the Rosetta Stone, the icon of literacy, to understand the importance of this museum?

Furthermore, paying a visit to the British Museum is almost a touristic ritual nowadays. I carefully observed this ritual as I sat down on the bench inside the amazing and very impressive main hall. First, the tourists go inside and look in wonder at the magnitude of the main floor. Then, they get a brochure at information desk which is easy to access. Their first “must see”, from hearing to their conversations, is the Rosetta stone. 

While the tourists -and I- are inside, we look at the objects, maybe not knowing so much what they are or why they are important, but feeling a sense of importance to the whole experience. This again, is part of the ritual. And looking at rituals from an anthropological point of view, we must look at them as “in between” moments, from one state of being, such as being ignorant, to another, being enlightened. We look at paintings in the National Gallery, sculptures at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the graves in Westminster Abbey, as if we were having a dialogue with those ancestors who lived so many years ago. When we leave, or at least when I leave, I wonder, do I feel more enlightened? In my case, I know most of the times I learn much more from looking at people that are just looking at something else.

Tags: Azul · Uncategorized

Applying some Museum Studies theory

August 23rd, 2009 · 2 Comments

Ever since I took a Museum Studies class at Dickinson, I appreciate exhibitions in a whole different way than I used to. Today I visited the Museum in Docklands, which covers London’s history from its creation, to the present day, particularly focusing on the port as a key element to understand the city’s relationship with the rest of the world.


When I walk into a museum, I try to find the “script” or the underlying message in the exhibit, that is, why are the objects arranged in a particular way and what is the ideology that is being articulated through this arrangement? In the museum I went today, I paid particular attention to the gallery or section entitled “London, Sugar and Slavery”. Apparently, this museum is the only one in London that has a permanent collection that examines the capital’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade.  


The information on the exhibit was extremely interesting and I discovered there was much I did not know about the slave trade. But what I thought was most interesting was the way slavery was explained. First, I can imagine that a museum actually acknowledging the atrocities that were committed by Great Britain to its colonies, is a relatively new phenomenon. I believe it is very positive that the museum focuses on the slave trade instead of showing the greatness and opulence of the British empire, which was precisely built upon  the suffering of millions. This always happens to me when I am in a rich European capital. Coming from Latin America, I am aware of how much Europe is to blame for the history of the countries that are now called the Third World. For example, when I was in Spain, whenever I saw an ostentatitous building painted in gold (most of the time they were Churches) I would think: How many people had to die in the mines of Bolivia so that this place would look like this? The same thing happens to me at the British Museum when looking at all the historical objects that were blatently stolen from other countries.

A second aspect of the Museum in Docklands that I observed was the very clear importance of political correctness in the making of the gallery. For example, there was a large wall sign explaining how the museum was particularly careful with the terminology used when referring to slaves, black people or white people. Instead of using the term “slave” they used “enslaved African”, or “European people” instead of “white people”. Third, what I thought was an extremely important piece of information for understanding slavery, was the explanation by Caribbean historian Eric Williams on how slavery was abolished not really because people at the time thought it was morally wrong but because they discovered that it was not longer profitable! Apparently the monopoly of the big slave trading companies where obstacles for free market and the further economic growth of Great Britain. It was clear that every aspect of the exhibition aimed at acknowledging a mistake and judging history. One painting that struck me was a portrait of the most important owner of a plantation in Jamaica, which the museum chose to put next to a title that said “Slave Owner”, instead of writing the man’s name. But the exhibit went even further, so much to the point that there was a projection in which the words that were one pronounced by slaves were now being mouthed by people from different ethnicities, which could lead to the idea that, either some people in London today are suffering almost as much as slaves used to. At the same time, the short film could stand for the idea that every London should be aware of the dark history on which the city was built upon.


More and more, museums have become tools to rectify history, to articulate the government’s mea culpa. I believe the Museum of Docklands is one example of this phenomenon. 

Tags: Azul

Walking along Electric Avenue

August 22nd, 2009 · 4 Comments

Entrance to the Brixton Market

As soon as you step off the bus at Brixton, the Caribbean and African influences in the community jump out at you. Signs for jerk chicken, racks of exotic spices, fresh melons and peppers, halal butchers, and the smell of fresh fish overtake your senses. The market extends for about two to three blocks and is full of colorful clothing, food, electronics, and toiletries. It was a bit intense of an experience to see fish so fresh they might still be wriggling, chickens hanging upside down with their heads still in tact, and butchers chopping animals up in the back of a market stand. That being said, many stands boasted products that could be purchased in any local or chain vendor. When asked where the jewelry she was selling was made, a vendor replied, “The factory”. In a similar vein, a different vendor was quite angry when we took a photograph of the DVDs he was selling- proof that they weren’t necessarily the most legal of all goods? Maybe. Still, as you strolled through the market, reggae music that was from other musicians than Bob Marley met your ears to show you that the market was more than just an outdoor equivalent to any old supermarket.

Jamaican influence

The racial aspect of Brixton was quite striking. The market vendors seemed to hail mostly from Jamaica, Ghana, and Nigeria. People from many different backgrounds crowded both the main street and the market. As soon as you step off the main road, however, you find yourself in a quiet, remote residential community mostly inhabited by white people. So as you journeyed through Brixton, the community seemed quite segregated. The majority of the residential area was white while the majority of those at the market were black. The street that connected these two areas was full of people of all races but the segregation was certainly noticeable. One circumstance made this segregation quite tangible to the three us today. One white man sat in the back of a quite crowded bus next to younger black men. For reasons unbeknownst to us, the black men started yelling and cursing at the white man. When he tried to leave the men, they grabbed his paper and increased the amount of profanity they threw his way. The bus then stopped and the three of us exited quickly to the market. The incident was not violent nor was it necessarily completely race related but it seemed to be if not characteristic than at least not out of place in terms of the tensions in the area.

On the edge of the market, a small plaque sat on the wall of a building. It commemorated those who were killed in a 1999 bombing of Brixton. As we had never before known of Brixton, hearing of a bombing took us by surprise. After researching the occurrence when we got back, we were able to make more sense of it. At the edge of Electric Avenue, a nail bomb was planted by David Copeland, a member of the British neo-Nazi Socialist Movement, in the early evening of April 17th. The group is a far right anti-immigration party. When the bomb exploded, it spit out glass and nails in a 20-foot radius and injured 50 people. He was planning on attacking other cities including Brick Lane and Old Compton Street (other racially and sexually diverse communities). Police accepted his testimony that he worked alone and he was sentenced to six life sentences in prison. This bombing is not an isolated incident in Brixton’s history. It is one example of racial tension that have persisted in the area for years. During the 1980s, the tensions erupted in multiple riots. These riots were usually sparked by the community’s distrust of authority and resulted in increased community damage and heightened tensions between the police and public. This tension continues today as we witnessed in the market. A vendor poked fun at a policeman passing by asking him, “Why aren’t you smiling? You never smile! You smile when you write a ticket though.” While the policeman continued walking by unfazed, the tension between community member and authority was still evident.

commemoration plaque

As you walk away from the market up a hill, you see a construction site for a proposed community center. Windrush Station will have representations from local community groups including the Black Cultural Archives and the Brixton Society. The name “Windrush Station” comes from the British ship Empire Windrush that brought the first generation of African Caribbean settlers to Britain to Brixton. The community hopes to hold events such as Brixton Splash that celebrate community pride of Brixton. Still, the website that advertises these events has pictures of only young white people who weren’t very prominent at the market that we saw today. So, while the community center promises to increase connectivity and inclusion in Brixton, it is not without the undertones of segregation.

*sidenote* We thought there might be a connection between Eddie Grant\’s \”Electric Avenue\” and Brixton’s Electric Avenue. Comments?

Tags: Audrey · Azul · Brandon · Markets