RENKEI PAX Workshop: Emancipating the Mind: History, Politics and Heritage
How should we deal with the trauma of historical injustices that have contemporary relevance through processes of commemoration, memorialisation and via research?
Whereas the first PAX workshop focused on atomic war, the second one focused on slavery. The main theme was the linkage between history, politics and heritage. The challenge was to think beyond disciplines and explore links between commemoration, memorialisation, historical trauma and reconciliation. Contemporary discussions of slavery and race, as with war and conflict, demonstrate the need to constantly recognize and revisit the political and other struggles of the past and remind us that this must be more than a simple exercise in ‘lesson-learning’.
The politicisation of civil war memorials in the US, prominent slave-traders in the UK (e.g. Edward Colston), and the ongoing debates about national apologies for war-time horrors, or reparations, demonstrate how the past continues to impinge directly on the present. It is challenging to conduct research into these issues and this is demonstrated in debates around public history. Institutions such as universities and museums are well-placed to provide societies with the knowledge and information to encourage and foster a more informed debate, and can also conduct research to explore these issues in the past and how they connect with the present. However, these same institutions also face numerous pressures and in the context of deeply politicised national debates and the rise of populist forces, their work (and the relationship between them) becomes even more important: to avoid collective amnesia, to remember the past and to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
The aim of the workshop was to examine different approaches to and perspectives on public memory – focusing on slavery as an issue that is intensely present in both academic discourse and in increasingly vocal public debates around the world.
The workshop was not just about slavery, however, and there were linkages with the previous PAX workshop. The themes were highly relevant not only to efforts to deal with slavery but also in relation to other forms of historic suffering endured as a result of sectarianism, colonialism or military action.
The programme was primarily targeted torwards PhD students and early career researchers from participating RENKEI universities working in related areas and disciplines.
Some events were opened to a wider academic and non-academic audiences as part of the aim to foster and generate conversations between different stakeholders, including local and national NGOs, and the private sector, with regards to the growing relevance of anti-slavery campaigns for businesses, following the introduction of new legislation on transparency in supply chains.
The workshop addressed the challenge with a series of focused sessions incorporating speakers from a range of disciplines. The programme began with presentations regarding the memorialisation of slavery. It also included discussions around legacies of empire, multimedia representations of conflict and human rights, the phenomena of ‘dark tourism’, the question of whether the past can be ‘usable’, ‘guerilla’ forms of memorialisation.
There were public lectures at the beginning and end of the programme. For the first, Professor Ana Lucia Araujo spoke on ‘Memory, History, and Heritage of Slavery: Lessons of an Unfinished Past’ and for the second, acclaimed film director Amma Asante addressed the challenges of dealing with memory, and historical injustice around racism and colonialism through the medium of cinema.
There were visits to Salford, Lancaster and London for exhibits and walking tours on the subject of slavery and empire. Finally, there was participation of the whole group in commemorative activities in the city centre of Liverpool and at the International Slavery Museum in the Albert Dock during the Slavery Remembrance Day commemorations. This included events and workshops at the museum.
The workshop encouraged and enabled participants to develop an innovative and comparatively informed understanding of the positive and negative aspects of heritage and public memory, and how these relate to the need to meet today’s global challenges.
Each of the participants increased their knowledge of the topic of slavery, participated in collaborative activities, discussed research skills and approaches, and developed their own research.
Those who took part in the workshop learned how to explain their own research to new audiences, and this knowledge exchange will enhance employability and career development, not least by forming links between early career academics in Japan and the UK.
One skill they developed was working as a team to complete group work in many of the sessions, and there was a vibrant exchange of research ideas and discussions about joint projects.
Another skill is writing for different audiences – one of the key outputs from the workshop was a short blog piece from each participant. There were sessions included in the programme where the organisers mentored each of the participants with regard to their individual pieces of work, providing feedback and guidance about how to present their ideas more effectively.
For the organisers the workshop contributed to internationalisation, the maintenance of the core relationship between the University of Liverpool and the International Slavery Museum.
A key outcome was the deepening of the relationship between Ritsumeikan University and the University of Liverpool, bringing together established and early career academics from each country - fostering shared understandings but also encouraging collaborative research.
The relationship continues with the production of the final output of the workshop – a collection of written pieces from each of the participants. These will be curated and edited by the organising team, and each piece will be an opportunity for the participants to reflect on their experience and the connections between their research projects and ambitions. This collection is expected to be published in November.
- University of Liverpool
- Ritsumeikan University