Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

If you walk a mile in someone else's shoes…

August 24, 2009 · 2 Comments

…it’ll take you to the most unexpected places. These past two days have been extremely informative and exciting; provocative and shocking; and most of all, eyeopening. This past Sunday, as we all gathered together to take a trip back in time to the founding of Londinium, I found myself thinking about the people who walked this same land thousands of years ago. We tend to think about the older civilizations as fairly one dimensional; as a group of warriors that fight to defend their land. In fact, most of the history classes that I have taken really emphasize the importance of ancient battles, using them as markers in the timeline of the civilization’s evolution. But really, this only leaves us gaps in our knowledge, just like the gaps in the timeline. I guess ultimately, I find myself feeling unfulfilled by this sort of approach to history. What about the people, what about their fears and hopes, what about their humanity? These questions have always run through my head throughout my various history classes, yet since I have been in London, I have been pleasently surprised thus far.

We have walked the streets, learning and interacting with the history that surrounds us. I have really enjoyed seeing where influencial people have lived, walking the street where the Great Fire started…essentially being able to visualize life, to compare it to my own, to recognize their hardships and their successes.

This was especially evident on Sunday when my group headed to the Docklands to visit the museum. We were all stunned into silence as we quietly wandered from room to room which powerfully exposed the ugly truth about slavery in England. We read letters and journal entries illustrating the pain of the enslaved, we saw paintings describing the horrors, we saw the chains that bound them and held them in captivity. Basically, we saw, heard, and touched the brutality of the slave trade in London’s early history and were able to witness that same prejudice manifest itself in today’s society. This very racism was clearly seen in the comments folder that was kept inside the museum. This folder held a variety of comments; some appreciated and loved the museum for its accurate portrayal of the events that have evolved into the current lingering prejudices that plague London, as well as comments that expressed downright contempt for the museum. One I clearly remember saying, “this place is a piece of crap and i ain’t coming back”. Though the grammatical errors make this person’s comment particularly ridiculous, it shocks and angers me to see that people like this still stubbornly refuse to grasp the reality that is present. Here I was finally being able to see some kind of progress as to how we approach learning history, and yet simultaneously here was some ignorant asshole willing to skip over the potentially difficult, but nevertheless REAL, facets of English history! After this experience, my group rallied together to discuss our reactions, all of us mirroring one another’s disgust. I have to say that the comments in that little binder really struck me and I have been thinking about them ever since we left…It’s funny how one person’s bad comment can really impact an experience. With the walking tour that took place today, however, I am feeling a lot better and and again excited that we took the past and made it our present.

Categories: Maddie · Museums · Uncategorized

2 responses so far ↓

  •   russella // Aug 25th 2009 at 04:25

    I remember reading one comment of similar variety and then directly under it someone had written “you’re an idiot.”

  •   russella // Aug 25th 2009 at 12:51

    That was meant as a post of agreement, but I didn’t really do a good job of following up on it–sorry. I think what shocked me was that these people felt so strongly about it that they actually had the gaul to write it down in a book; I may be grievously wrong, but I’ve never come across that in a museum setting before in America. It just goes to show powerful tensions still exist. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but one that everyone eventually needs to take.

You must log in to post a comment.