Local history is a valuable way of engaging people with the past. Examining different histories allows us to see familiar locations with new eyes. It changes our perspective on both our local history and identity. The past has sometimes been described as a ‘foreign place’ but it can become knowable when we put it in the context of the streets we walk down or the buildings we inhabit. Local history has sometimes been thought of as inward looking – small scale history. But local areas do not operate in isolation, they were and are places that reach out and connect to different geographic locations. People, goods and ideas constantly circulate leaving traces of themselves behind. It is these traces which enable us to tell stories about the past.
Slavery has too often been considered to be a distant phenomenon. Large numbers of the enslaved laboured on the plantations in the Caribbean and this geographic distance has enabled a distancing of the mind. The slavery business was not so easily contained. The profits amassed through the sales of Caribbean goods, colonial finance, insurance, shipping, slave trading and plantation ownership impacted on Britain. People who made their money in the colonies often returned home to spend their money – some profited from a distance and never left Britain or saw the horror of life on the plantations. Some of these people were born, lived and died in Hackney.
Hackney is well known and celebrated for its diverse community. But how many people know how historic this diverse community is? Alongside researching Hackney’s connections to those who profited from the slavery business we will be telling the stories of Hackney’s historic black presences – of those people who overcame slavery. For some people their route into Hackney was via the plantation, but when freedom came they left the Caribbean and put down roots here. This will be their story too. A centuries old story of people making a home, a life and a community in Hackney.
Educating young people about this history is vital, if we are to understand and appreciate the present we must understand and appreciate the past. Together the project partners will explore both the local histories and wider legacies of British slave-ownership to produce a new interactive educational resource for students in Key Stage 3. They will work with local secondary schools, a community consultant, interns and creative art practitioners to provide a learning experience for young people which is designed to both challenge and inspire.
The project partners will develop a performance based secondary schools session to link to the new curriculum, support a demand in the borough from teachers and complement Hackney Museums and Archive’s pre-existing African History Season primary schools offer for Key Stage 1 and 2. The session will be piloted with school groups during African History Season (October 2014) with a view to turn the session into a core part of Hackney Museum and Archives secondary school offer in the future. The Legacies of British Slave-ownership staff will provide supporting events for African History Season to link the schools offer into a wider programme for community engagement.
We hope you will follow our project and it will encourage you to think about the global routes which can be found in your local roots!