People of African Descent in the 21st century: knowledge and cultural production in reluctant sites of memory

Lead Research Organisation: Bath Spa University
Department Name: College of Liberal Arts


The proposed network will form part of the AHRC's activity as part of the UN International Decade for People of African Descent and will use a core arts and humanities research focus to explore issues of specific relevance to people of African descent and will involve engagement with and the participation of, researchers and communities of African descent.

Through a cross-disciplinary synthesis of sites of memory related to the history and experiences of people of African descent the network will explore specific settings in order to show how they reluctantly tell the story of the legacies of colonial encounters between people of Africa, Asia and Europe and how they provide examples of active participation of people of African descent in shaping societies they were forcibly moved to. This network will illuminate the mechanisms of cultural production at work in these various sites of memory through a series of workshops including creative performance and a conference. It will involve the participation of researchers and artistic practitioners of African descent and community groups of African descent.

Bringing together an international network of academic and community participants and crossing the boundaries of disciplines will afford the opportunity to present a more holistic view and analysis of histories that are relevant to people of African descent. This network proposes to extend the notion of sites of memory to the idea of "reluctant sites of memory" that present a variety of micro histories regarding the experiences of people of African descent. The polysemic term "reluctant sites of memory" was chosen to emphasise that "reluctance" evokes degrees of resistance from both minority groups and majority communities.

We will examine a number of reluctant sites of memory including comparison with international locations such as African-Canadian historic sites. Little has been written about the links between South-East England and South Wales and people of African descent. However, Cardiff is home to Tiger Bay one of the oldest multicultural areas in Britain and Fairfield House in Bath is a crucial stop for visitors interested in the history of people of African descent. The very purpose of the network is to shed light on sites of reluctant memory and this network will reach beyond academia to work with communities to explore connections between Afro-descents, the history of involvement in the transatlantic slavery, Black presence in South-East England and South Wales and colonial legacies.

Planned Impact

The very purpose of the network is to shed light on reluctant sites of memory and this network will reach beyond academia to work with communities to explore connections between Afro-descents, the history of involvement in the transatlantic slavery, Black presence in South-East England and South Wales and colonial legacies. The key groups upon which this network will impact are: communities of African descent; heritage and cultural sites and their visitors; and professional practitioners.

Partnering with SEWREC will provide the network with strong links to schools, local agencies and community groups to participate in the workshops. Castejon & Al (2014), drawing on the work of historians Nora and Aguihon, showed how declaring, even narrating one's story instead of having one's story told by another empowers individuals and communities. Through the workshops the network intends to empower those directly participating to share their stories and to reflect upon, and challenge, the ways in which the history of people of African descent are represented in Western Europe.

The network will not only impact upon the perception of the history of people of African descent by those groups themselves but also by other broader groups. By working with heritage and cultural sites such as Fairfield House, which is of interest to a variety of individuals and communities including those drawn in by an interest in Ethiopia's role in the advent of World War 2 or by the Tafari Art Gallery, which is based at Fairfield House, the network's findings and outputs will also contribute to the way that they present this history to their wider constituency of visitors.

The network and its findings can be used to further the understanding of reluctant sites of memory and the history of people of African descent in the UK, including through the use of international collaboration and comparison. Through involvement of and dissemination to professionals from charitable organisations such as Gwent Multi-Ethnic Education Service, the network can increase knowledge and capacity for advocacy amongst educational practitioners with regards to the school curriculum in England and Wales, and the representation and inclusion of the history of minority groups and their role in and interaction with broader national histories and identities.


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Description 1/ Afro-Caribbean communities have been engaged in community activities that are aimed at transmitting their history in Newport since the 1960s. 2/ They have no public sites that recognise their contribution to Welsh and British history in Wales 3/ Intergenrational knowledge shyaring has been instrumental in countering narratives of erasure or exclusion from the majority group. 4/ These communities have a strong sense of shared history and adhere and promote notions centred around multiple identities
Exploitation Route My findings may contribute to the debates about the British Empire, the legacies of the past and how to include Black Welsh History in regional curriculum.
Sectors Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description My findings have been used to revive the debate about the contribution of people of Afro-Caribbean descent to narratives about Welsh identity. I showed how the absence of physical sites related to these communities' history has led a to stronger sense of community engagement and how that in turn has led to more effort in intergenerational knowledge sharing about the past of these communities in Newport. My findings has brought Afro-Caribbean communities from different background (Jamaica, St Lucia, Tobago, Trinidad) together as they connected through activities I organised for this projects. Intergenerational exchanges also occurred during those meetings as three generations of Afro-Caribbean had the opportunities to share their stories and to listen to what younger people have to say about that past and the connections they make or do not make with it. The overall sense of belonging was strengthened by young people's opinions. They feel first and foremost Welsh.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Education
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description South East Wales Regional Equality Council, UK 
Organisation South East Wales Racial Equality Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The research is on-going and long lasting impact is not yet measurable but this research is based on previous collaborations with Asian, African and Afro-Caribbean communities in South Wales that have been previously been facilitated by SEWREC. SEWREC also provides their expertise in collaborative work with minority ethnic groups. SEWREC has been the recipient of several grants. I have organised several conferences at SEWREC's request regarding the history of people of African descent. These were designed for a broad audience.
Collaborator Contribution SEWREC's strong support of minority ethnic communities including refugees and asylum seekers makes it their first call when trying to access mainstream services. SEWERC will serve as a safeguard and a benevolent observer during the interview process. March 2018: the partner has organised the meetings/workshops (transport, logistics, etc.). Together we chose 3 types of focus groups (young, older people and working, professional people). I conducted interviews but the partner was present.
Impact March 2018: I have been working closely with SEWREC and people of African descent, conducting interviews and organising focus groups aimed at bringing communities together. These groups have provided us with valuable information about people of African descent in Wales (mainly Newport and Cardiff). We have been able to draw young people, older generations and professional, working people to these events. Our findings will be published in a joint report. A background research has already been published (see publication section). It provides us with an understanding of the context in which this more focused research was done.
Start Year 2016
Description University of East London, Library and Learning Services: Archives, UK 
Organisation University of East London
Department Library and Learning Services
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution My research will add to the tremendous work done by this institution to share knowledge and raise awareness about the history and stories of refugees. March 2018: the collaboration was fruitful. The institution was very supportive and provided me with material that is not available elsewhere.
Collaborator Contribution University of East London, Library and Learning Services: Archives, UK holds a great number of archival material that are crucial for this research. Their expertise in the field is also of great value. March 2018: the Library has provided me with a great number of archives that were used during this research. These are hundreds of papers. These are for example Papers of the Refugee Council relating to all aspects of refugee history, policy and practice, both in the UK and worldwide as well as material from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (London Office) as well as papers from the Northern refugee centre.
Impact Preliminary outcomes were presented at the workshop organised for the project in January 2018 (see events organised). Further details about outcomes will be presented in Paris at the workshop organised by the AHRC and LABEX from the 15-17 March 2018. A report was also written and is available: Sullivan, S, Baussant, M, Dodd, L, Otele, O and Dos Santos, I (2017) Disrupted histories, recovered pasts: a cross-disciplinary analysis and cross-case synthesis of oral histories and history in post-conflict and postcolonial contexts. Bath Spa University, Bath. ISBN 9781911126065
Start Year 2016
Description A back a yard evening 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact South Wales Racial Equality Council and myself organised a "Back-a'yard" event aimed at bringing together several communities of Afro-Caribbean descent.
the event was recorded and the records are held by SEWREC in Newport, South Wales.

The event gathered senior members of the Afro-Caribbean community in their 60s and 70s, their children in their 40s and 50s and 4 young people in their early 20s.
There was 20 people at the event, organised in the local Caribbean restaurant. The event back a yard is following African and Afro-Caribbean communities practices of gathering around a meal and music to share information, advice and generally support one another.

The community was very keen to know what would come after the event and how to make this a recurrent way to meet and share.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description International conference on Reluctant sites of memory 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The aim of the conference was to look at the way the term has been theorised by the principle investigator and to explore how it was applied in various settings in Europe, the US and Canada. The aim was also to focus on local differences within the UK to examine the way sites of memory in England and Wales shape questions of identity, discrimination and social cohesion. A comparative approach was therefore discussed.
The overall consensus was that the term was fluid enough to make room for social, economic and cultural changes that may or may not be linked to communities of people of African descent.
Expression and production through arts was also envisaged and offered an interesting approach to understanding identity and social justice. Equally important was the challenges posed by dominant gender construct when it came to the histories of people of African descent.

30 people attended
2 artists
20 academics
1 media representative (UJMA radio, Bristol),
2 graduate students
2 undergraduate students and students representatives
1 postgraduate student
1 museum practitioner
1 representative from the voluntary sector (NGO)
There were 11 formal speakers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Keynote roundtable: '18th Century in the 21st Century' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The aim of the talk was to reflect on the way the past influences the present and to see how memory, history and the legacies of the past shape contemporary debates such as the British Empire and its role in identity formation, Brexit and the place of people of African descent in reluctant sites of memory.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018