Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

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