Contributed by Lindsay Randall
Scholars, museum professionals, educators and interested members of the public gathered at Salem State University for a symposium that delved into the history and implications of slavery in New England. Essex Heritage organized this event to be interactive and engaging. In addition to scholars they also invited the participants to explore the topic through breakout sessions and facilitated activities.
Beth Beringer of Essex Heritage invited me to lead one of the activities. During the morning session I lead participants through our History 200 lesson, The Little Spots Allow’d Them. Participants explored how landscapes can and have shaped human behavior using archaeological data from Isaac Royall’s Ten Hills Farm in Medford, Mass. (now the Royall House and Slave Quarters).
The program then shifted to exploration of the difficult discussions that arise when confronting northern slavery. The experts on this panel had a diverse background as historians, professors, and museum professionals. They focused on meaningful strategies that could be used to engage any audience – classroom, museum goers, or the public – in a substantive manner.
Keynote speaker (and ChuBbs Woodrow Randall enthusiast) Dr. Joanne Pope Melish spoke about the often complex relationship that New England had with the institution of slavery. She focused on the impact that this history has had on the region and its legacy today. Melish was also quick to point out that “rich men did not own slaves. Slaves made men rich” and how we need to shift the typical narratives used when engaging with students in any setting.
There also was a group of museum educators who talked about their unique ways of engaging the public in the history of slavery in New England. Maryann Zujewski from Salem Maritime National Park has been working with Dr. Bethany Jay of Salem State University to reframe their interpretive tours so that they are not simply ADDING black people to history, but that they and other minorities are becoming more integrated in a meaningful and natural manner. Olivia Searcy discussed how she has helped to create the educational programming for the Royall House and Slave Quarters Museum in a manner that has focused on the history of the enslaved people at the site. The Caribbean Connections program from the House of the Seven Gables is a duel language program, described by Ana Nuncio as innovative in its outreach to minority groups in a community which might not otherwise feel welcomed in a museum setting.
At the end of the day participants could self-select into a variety of breakout sessions to dive further into a topic of interest.
This symposium was very important and offered me a great deal of new information and ways of thinking. I am already furiously at work on how to integrate all that I learned into the lessons and activities that I teach. I hope that another symposium of this kind will be offered again and I anxiously await word from my friends at Essex Heritage!