Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Who are you?

August 24, 2009 · No Comments

DSC08082Picture: Names of ships, sailing ports, number of slaves on board and place of arrival; from Docklands Museum

A short clip at the Docklands Museum opened up with the question: “Who are you?” It asked us to think about the feeling of being taken to a foreign place against your will to be violated, beaten, mistreated and even sold. It asked us to think about loosing everything you have ever worked for, everything you own, everything and everyone you love. The film also asked us to “consider slavery how bitter a draught and how many are forced to drink it” (from short film).  I have thought about these questions multiple times before and I will never know what it was like to be in one of the 10,000 ships (as a slave) which left Britain for the Triangle Trade between 1642 and 1812.

Since my arrival in London, I have inquired about London’s dark history, the unpopular history, the history that no one wants to discuss, exactly the history on display at the Docklands. Yesterday, while at the Museum of London, as I read through a small exhibit on Apartheid I was reminded of the atrocities committed in South Africa and today I was reminded once again. Although, the small exhibit appeared to be focused on the contributions of Englishmen and women to the fight against the Apartheid government, it sparked a special interest in me. Today at the Docklands Museum, I was able to answer some of my own questions from yesterday regarding London’s role in the enforcement of segregation and the slave trade.

“The white men’s happiness cannot be purchased by the black men’s misery.” (Frederick Douglas, 1849) Indeed, Frederick Douglas was and still is correct in this statement and I think the Docklands Museum makes a great attempt to teach everyone just that. I am pleased to have learned this side of London’s history, the one A.N. Wilson would refer to as “hidden beneath the surface,” the one that Bloomsbury tells nothing of.

On our admirable tour of Bloomsbury I realized that this is a town filled with its own rich history, yet it is a history I was not too eager to learn. Even though, during the tour I was very much intrigued by the numerous Squares we visited and by the historical sites we discussed It was not my favorite place at the moment. I guess I’m not used to living and learning about a place where so many popular writers and influential people have lived in. I thought about how wealthy this area is and has been, and wealth is not something I personally admire. Regardless of my personal feelings, the town was a joy to explore and nifty to get to know, nevertheless I am almost sure there is some lost history in Bloomsbury too!

In class today Professor Qualls asked us to walk away considering the following questions: What does London do to people? and What happens when you come to London? Well, London certainly may have done something to those who sailed from the docklands towards the United States on slave ships, to the slaves themselves, to the people who fought (in London) for the end of Apartheid in South Africa and to those who were inspired and wrote their best work on the streets of Bloomsbury. London is making me questions British History, what is told as well as what remains hidden (not in our books). Now ask yourself, Who are you? and What is London doing to you?

I end with a quote from the Docklands Museum by Ottobah Cugoano (1787): “It is not strange to think, that they who ought to be considered as the most learned and civilized people in the world, that they should carry on a traffic of the most barbarous cruelty and injustice, and that many… are become so dissolute as to think slavery, robbery and murder no crime?”

Categories: Flow · Uncategorized
Tagged: , ,

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below..

You must log in to post a comment.