Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Perhaps, in the future…

August 25th, 2009 · No Comments

“Slavery, The Scale of Freedom” by Owen. “These scales show how hard it was and can be to achieve liberty and justice when fighting for freedom” reads the sign. The scale, the representation of inequality frightens me.

An introductory passage in the museum describes the need for us to restrain from using historical terms such as “Negro” and “Mulatto” which were derogatory terms during slavery. I think back to the time when in I resided in Azerbaijan, my college-educated parents and friends would refer to anyone who is of  a mixed ethnicity as a “mulatto” which now I know is originated from the word “mule.” And when African American men in United States refer to each other as “Negros” in a “joking” manner. Or when the abolition of slavery in East Indies occurred, the government found a new source of cheap labor in India resulting with 1,500,000 Indians being subjected to the system. Reading novels such as Saalam:Brick Lane, West Indian and South Asian communities are still feeling the effects of abuse put upon them by those who were in a place of power.

Upon visiting the atlantic transatlantic slavery exhibition questions arose: Is freedom truly achieved in England and around the world? Are the facts presented at Docklands Museum part of the past or present (as in certain actions by those in power limit actions of those who have less power)? If my liberal, educated family used a derogatory term “Mullato” and did not even realize how much hurt it held behind it, how do we further educate on the topic of slavery and how much more there is behind it?

With the mixed reviews posted by the museum visitors at the end of the exhibition, I couldn’t help but question the British education system. With the comments ranging from acceptance and understanding to guilt and criticism, I wonder how comfortable the British are with their history and how much they discuss in their secondary school regarding the British participation in transatlantic slavery.

It frightens me that without education, dialogue, and willingness to change and accept the cycle will continue and a new group and culture will suffer from injustice. Words such as “Mullato” and “Negro” will be spoken and “Scales of Freedom” will never reach a balance.



Tags: Jeyla · Museums

The Bloomsbury Walk

August 24th, 2009 · 1 Comment

     Yesterday, we took a walking tour around Bloomsbury, the neighborhood that is adjacent to our own.  Learning about the area was truly fascinating, and I felt so lucky to have the opportunity to see where Virginia Woolf lived, walk along the sidewalk where Charles Darwin might have walked, and experience an area that is so rich in history. 

     We learned that in this one small area lived; Charles Dickens, The Bonham Carters, Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Hodgkin, Henry James, Charles Darwin, Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot. In fact, we saw a building that once housed the publishing company where T.S. Eliot worked, and were told of how his wife – whom Eliot claimed was mentally unwell – would “picket” outside the building with a sign that read “I am the abused wife of T.S. Eliot!”

     We walked though an area around Russell square which was destroyed during the Blitz and rebuilt years later. It was interesting, too, to see just how severe the destruction of the city was at the Docklands Museum today. The rest of the museum was very informational, as well. I particularly enjoyed the sections about the docklands themselves. Being a visual learner, I found it very useful to see all the diagrams, primary sources of life at the Docklands and other visual and kinesthetic aids that connected with our readings.  In particular, I remember one of the articles mentioning how dangerous working at the docks was; how many men were killed by falling into the storage areas below deck or suffering other serious injuries. After seeing some of the chains, hooks, and other tools used by the workers, I can really see just how dangerous working on the docks was.

Attached are some pictures both of the Bloomsbury walk and the Docklands Museum…

Tags: Anya · Museums

Who are you?

August 24th, 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?”

Tags: Flow · Uncategorized

Rendered Speechless

August 24th, 2009 · No Comments


Today I was apart of the group that went to the Dockland Museum and finally got to experience what everyone had been raving about yesterday. Like Azul, I had taken the Museum Studies class last semester and put together an exhibit on co-education this summer, so I can no longer look at museums or exhibits without using a critical eye. Hands down, the London, Sugar, & Slavery exhibit was the best I have ever seen. The task and challenge of the curator to take on a subject that is not particularly easy or pleasant was a feat in itself. And the exhibit was absolutely spectacular.

After reading the lists of ships and passengers at the exhibit’s entrance, I was moved by this satirical painting that followed those disturbing lists. The painting was called May Morning by John Collett, 1765, and showed a crowd of people of different ranks and statuses, all white except for one African man in the center of the painting. At first when I looked at the painting, I though it was interesting that, for the 1700s, the African man was the focal point of the picture and was not standing out in any obnoxious way but just blending in. Then I read the description of the painting and found out that it was meant to be a satire. I also noticed that all of the other people had lighter clothes on and were highlighted, while the African man was in the back and dimmed. I found it interesting that this painting could have been viewed in two completely different lights depending on the knowledge known about it beforehand.

P8242340 (sorry it’s blurry, couldn’t use flash).

About halfway through the exhbit I came upon the sight of beautiful china, teacups and saucers and pots. Any other time I would have been delighted at the sight, because I love old teacups and such. But after going through the horrors of the exhibit and seeing the suffering the enslaved Africans had to go through, the sight of these cups full out disgusted me. I knew that people who had no idea of the pain of these people who worked to give them sugar for their tea. I was talking to Audrey, who was viewing the artifacts next to me and she had the same reaction. It is strange how an object that I usually think of as beautiful could be so cruel and disgusting to me.


One of the best points of the exhibit that actually happened in the beginning and resounded in my head while I browsed the exhibit was the words, “This is your history” from the video. I thought it was quite bold, but much needed, of the museum to place those lines simply, but powerfully, at the end of this very moving video. To me, it was like a cold slap in the face, and I believe it was for many other people to, to make them realize that yes this is our history and we have to come to terms with it. Once we accept, learn about it, we can finally move past it, instead of trying to brush this brutal history aside.

This exhibit completely moved me almost to tears. I learned so much from it and was glad to read that a majority of the comment cards were positive about it as well. I hope someday in the near, near future we can all move past pretending the bad parts of our history don’t exist.

Tags: Alli · Museums

Romans, Writers, and Wharfs… oh my!

August 24th, 2009 · 2 Comments

When I first left Tower Hill Tube station and looked out over the road to the Tower of London, my first thought was “I really wish those cars weren’t driving on the road so I could get a clear picture.”  Then I managed to get over my disappointment, reminding myself that I will be going there eventually and will be able to take pictures in abundance, I looked around and noticed the section of Roman Wall standing less than 100 feet to my left.  I admit, knowing the importance of the Romans and the impact their wall had on the development of today’s London, I feel kind of silly for letting my eyes slide over it to the prettier and more picturesque Tower.  That written, I think that my mistake of dismissing the wall as nothing but an unimportant ruin happens to countless tourists and even the people of London every day! 

The Roman Wall section that my eyes skimmed over in favour of the Tower of London

Roman Wall my eyes skimmed in favor of the Tower of London

What I found most interesting about the Roman Walk was the idea that London is a modern city built on top of several stages of ancient city.  The fact that the basement of a hair salon can house Roman ruins is difficult to fathom.  However, the knowledge that people in the medieval ages recognized the brilliance of Roman engineering and decided to fortify and expand the existing wall is even more incredible. 

Medieval section built on top of Roman Wall - complete with pidgeons!

Medieval section built on top of Roman Wall - complete with pigeons!

  When I started my second of two walks of yesterday, I didn’t know very much about the area or the people who have lived there.  Although it was really neat to see where this writer and that philosopher worked and played, I was much more interested in the buildings and how they related to the history of London.  There was one section of the tour that particularly captured my attention.  When standing in the centre of one of the green spaces, you could look to one side and see original row houses, with the dark brown brick and white window frames, and to the other side you could only see bright red brick houses that seemed to have been completed in the last five to ten years.  The original houses that still stand were only cosmetically damaged during the Blitz; while the red brick homes had been completely annihilated.  What shocked me was that only a small span of grass and trees separated the barely injured and the completely destroyed.   

Original rowhousees that were barely damaged in the Blitz

Original rowhouses that were barely damaged in the Blitz

New red brick rowhouses where old ones were destroyed in the Blitz

New red brick rowhouses where old ones were destroyed in the Blitz

 Today at the Docklands Museum, the City and River: 1800-1840 exhibit really stood out.  I’m not a huge fan of taxes and duties, but there was a section on customs and why the docks had to be formed that made a lot of sense to me.  It explained that there was so much illegal shipping into London through unauthorized channels that something had to be done by the government to try to control it/use it to their advantage to get more money through taxes.  What I found particularly interesting was that the proprietors of the different docks were paranoid of each other to a fault.  They didn’t trust the police to look after their docks and warehouses, so they hired personal security forces to keep out anyone they didn’t want around.  After seeing the different wharfs and how close they were to each other when I went up to Greenwich the other day, I completely understand the paranoia of the businessmen.

Even though I’ve been in London for only four days, I feel like I’m slowly beginning to understand that there is much more the London than I could have possibly imagined.  I’m learning that I need to keep my eyes open because you never know when you’ll turn a corner and find the next nugget of history, culture, art, or architecture.

Tags: Kelley

Looking at People's Feet(and other things no one wants to read about)

August 24th, 2009 · 5 Comments

I shall get to the stuff we’re supposed to get to shortly, I promise. But first:  The first group discussion was today. Both it, and the blog, seem to be the most efficient and fluid means of dealing with a scenario like this; however, that doesn’t mean they aren’t without bumps. Rather than being a free-flowing exchange of ideas, it turned out to be as muddled as the Thames.  Professor Qualls noted early on that those who were not used to speaking up should learn to do so, which i completely agree with, but at the same time this type of open forum(especially with such a large group) is not always condusive to the parry-repulse that I think we may have been striving for. 

Now for something completely different…I went to the Docklands Museum today. As I had come in the second group, I had already been given to preemptive notions of what the museum would hold. I do have to say the section of the museum about the enslavement was interesting, especially the video that played over the exhibit’s walls. The effect as a whole was unsettling, intrusive and disconcerting. But what shocked me was how much those feelings continued to come up in the museum. I have always felt the British a subtle and quiet folk, and yet the museum had many abrassive points where they were quite the opposite.  The transitioning in the museum was really cool and the models and simulated areas were incredibly well done. Sadly my camera died a few minutes before we were to leave, so I wasn’t able to document much visually.  At the very beginning to the museum they brought something up, which seemed almost too simple to be actually said. London was a fort, and the Romans the foreigners.  A people often attempt to harken back to their roots, their origins. But with the British, they really have two: they have either focus on the Romans, who were an opressive force, or the celtic tribes in the area, who were being opressed. This ambiguity seems to be at the heart of the Brits’ inner conflict.  They strive to be civilized, but the civilized people are actually the ones who are doing to the most uncivilized things. I am temped to say that the understated nature of the British stem from this historical insecurity. It could also be why so many people in Britain have trouble with foreigners.  The problem with this statement is that the British also maintain an immense pride for their country. My rebuttle for that is they incredibly outspoken about it. The poems today all seems painful and smugging of London, yet they maintain a sense of ownership of it. I’m trying to remember what Mrs. Fox said exactly, but the British are allowed to be prideful but not proud.

I have been thinking a lot about what differences lie between the English and the Americans. I would not be so bold as to think I am analyzing anywhere beyond the superficial, but the article about time got me to think about how the people of London move. There are most certainly cultural and class distinctions of leg movement– but not of foot movement.(Noted) In all likelyhood I am just not being observant; however, it seems like all Londoner’s foot placement and tempo is the same, relatively speaking.  I thought at first that it was just a human thing, but I found that our group had very little similarity in the way we placed our feet. Now that I’ve said that I’m sure to get a bombardment of corrections, so I’ll cop out by saying that I haven’t done enough research to make a judgement or analysis.

anyway, cheers

Tags: Andrew R

The Art of the Docklands

August 23rd, 2009 · 1 Comment

From the minute we moved into the “London, Sugar, and Slavery” section of the Docklands Museum I think we all knew it was going to be something different; something unlike other things we typically see when at a museum.  Being a very visual person I was immediately drawn to a video that began as we entered the area.  The film was the reading of a diary of an enslaved African (as the Dockland Museum’s terminology sign stated it would refer to slaves as).  Images of different people mouthing the words of his diary flashed across the screen along with other scenic and touristy images of London, as a man’s voice spoke it and the words of the entry scrolled along the bottom.  The letter ended with the final words, “someday I hope this will all end, and we will all be free.”  I simple wish of a man who could do nothing besides hope for the best in the future.

Keeping that video in mind I strolled through the remainder of the exhibit reading the signs and refreshing my memory of what I have learned about slavery in the past.  But when I got to the end of the exhibit I immediately stopped in my tracks.  The final wall in this area as entitled “Loss & Liberty” and featured modern ceramic artwork paired with poetry.

Loss & Liberty

Loss & Liberty

I moved through the artwork and poems slowly, taking in each one as it came.  The Caribbean rose, the faces of strained men and women, and the repetition of these images returned my thoughts to the video from the beginning of the exhibit.  The repeated modern images and the eloquent words of the enslaved African from the past, paralleled with the ceramics and the words of current men who have experienced, have heard, or are experiencing similar thoughts and feelings as the man did writing in his diary in the 1700s. At that moment the exhibit all came together for me in a world of history, art, and culture all uniting, blurring, and mixing– into one.

To read more about my time in London/UEA and to see more pictures visit: http://amandaepower.blogspot.com/

Tags: Amanda · Museums

What I Did Not Know About Slavery

August 23rd, 2009 · No Comments

As a person who went to urban public elementary, middle, and high schools that were primarily African-American, I used to consider myself well read on the subject of slavery. I was taught very little about world history and anything remotely confrontational. My pre-college history education could probably be described as being very limited in all areas except 2: Slavery and the Civil Rights movement. When a teacher would introduce the subject of slavery I admittedly let out a big sigh, as I really wanted to learn something new.

When I arrived in the slavery section of the Docklands Museum, I quickly began to realize that like most of my early history education I was not taught the full story. I only ever learned about the enslavement of Africans in America and only very briefly covered how the Africans came to be enslaved. The triangle trade route was just a picture in my history book that confused my middle school self; I would stare at the picture wondering why the route went from Britain to Africa and then to the West Indies rather than to America. Also, if asked in my early years of high school to point out the West Indies on a map I probably would not have been able to.

The Docklands Museum focused on the how and the why of slavery in the West Indies (and the Americas) that I was never really exposed to in high school. I learned that the Portuguese were actually the first to start the slave trade, not the English like I was taught. In high school I was taught that England started the slave trade and that they were the only ones completely to blame for its beginning.

I also learned a lot more about what slavery looked like in the West Indies, as opposed to in America. I learned that even after African-Caribbean slaves were given their “freedom”, indentured servitude was used in a way that greatly resembled slavery and that they really were not free at all. I was also able to read profiles of slaves, slave owners, and slave dealers in England and in the West Indies. These profiles enabled me to see the human side of slavery. This, rather than the dates and statistics, made the history of slavery more real for me and gave it a very personal dimension that I found very touching.

The longer I am in England the more I learn, and the more I realize that I have A LOT to learn. The Docklands Museum helped me to see a different side/perspective of a history that I thought I knew a lot about.

Tags: Rebecca

Docklands Museum

August 23rd, 2009 · 3 Comments

After a bit of trouble navigating the DLR (apparently the train we got on didn’t happen to stop at West India Quay, despite what it said on the map), all thirteen of us arrived at the Docklands Museum after a bit of a hike between the DLR stop we got off at and the DLR stop we were supposed to arrive at. I must admit we were all rather tired and “museumed out” after our walking tour and our trip to the London Museum earlier, but we quickly realized that the Docklands Museum had a lot to offer.

The London Sugar Slavery Gallery exhibit stuck with me the most. I tend to automatically think of slavery as an American phenomenon, something tied in with American plantations and Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, but it was interesting to see the more urban lives of the British African slaves, as well as the fact that many slaves (and later, indentured servants from China and India) were sent to the British-owned sugar plantations in the West Indies. Strolling through the exhibit, I thought it was well done, with equal attention paid to the lives and conditions of the slaves, the Abolishionist movement, and the influence slaves’ work today.

However, upon coming to the end of the exhibit, I was surprised to discover that many visitors to the museum did not find the exhibit satisfactory and were so displeased that they felt the need to leave notes, which the museum had collected into a binder. Several commenters thought the exhibit was a waste of space, since the slave trade and its inhumanity were not the commenters’ faults and they claimed they didn’t need to apologize for it. Others thought the slaves’ plight wasn’t documented graphically enough and that the exhibit glossed over the conditions they lived in and the treatment they faced. Still others were disappointed that the museum had chosen to devote so much space to the slave trade and not as much to British innovators and historical figures. After reading through many of the comments, several of us sat around discussing the complaints and why we found the commenters’ arguments to be inadequate.

Firstly, many of us felt that the fact that the sheer amount of artifacts, quotes, artwork, and lasting influence on today’s British culture merited the inclusion of the exhibit into the Docklands Museum, and that the exhibit clearly and diplomatically relayed all of these things. The exhibit did not ask Britons to apologize for the acts of their forefathers, nor did it seem to try to make a visitor fee guilty for the actions of the past. Secondly, there is a fine line between what is appropriate to be displayed and what is not in a museum which is obviously family-oriented. Given the fact that the museum has younger visitors, as well as visitors who might not want to be confronted with more graphic images and explanations of the slaves’ lives, I would say that they did an accurate, tasteful job of describing their conditions and treatments. Thirdly, I don’t believe that the Docklands Museum claims to represent every aspect of London and its history: it’s simply impossible to fit so much information into one building, and not all of what can be exhibited can fit in one museum, either. There are many other museums in the city which undoubtedly have exhibits on the more well-known London historical figures and innovators, and though some commenters disagreed, we found the slavery exhibit to be refreshing and somewhat unexpected, since we are accustomed to only hearing about the American side of the slave trade and the consequences there.

I suppose there is ignorance everywhere.

Tags: Chelsea · Museums