As part of the delivery of cultural heritage training workshops that took place in Mombasa, Kenya from 12-16 November 2019 – as part of the British Council funded Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth project – Drs Stephen Collins and Allan Moore took a trip to Fort Jesus with colleagues from Mount Kenya University and workshop participants .
Built on the orders of the Portuguese between 1593 and 1596, Fort Jesus was taken over by Omani Arabs in 1698 and then the British in 1895. In 1631, the fort briefly fell under the control of the Sultan Yusuf ibn al-Hasan of Mombasa. Under the British, the site was used as a prison. Subsequently, the fort was declared a historical monument in 1958 and given UNESCO World Heritage status in 2011. Thus, as a site, it has had a colourful and contested history.
The purpose of the trip was to consider the UNESCO world heritage site, and Mombasa’s dominant monument, in terms of what had been discussed in the preceding workshops. Participants were invited to consider the site in terms of formal and informal uses of the space, who had the right to use the space, how heritage was foregrounded or promoted and what kinds of narratives were evident.
The following day, the conversation in which we reflected on these themes with reference to the fort was one of the highlights of the week. Curated by Dr Moore, participants identified several areas that they now felt were questionable in terms of how the space was presented. For example, they identified that there was very little mention of the local community in any of the displays, instead it was as though the fort had simply been a site of chronological occupation by foreign powers with no connection to the people living and working outside the gates.
Dr Stephen Collins speaking at the Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth workshop
Secondly, they identified that in the section recently renovated by a grant from the Oman government, there was a series of mannequins in traditional Omani dress. In spite of the presence of the mannequins, there was no critical information of the role that Omani Arabs played in the Arabic slave trade or the lives of the indigenous population. In fact, there was no mention of the role of the fort in slavery at all.
Similarly, the British presence, which lasted over several decades, was characterised as being administratively and scientifically progressive, rather than part of a theatre of imperial power.
As we left, we spotted a large group of school children arriving to view the site for themselves; they ran around the large expanses of grass and clambered over the crumbling walls. Over the following week, we pondered large questions concerning how funding has implications for which stories are told, how uncomfortable stories are passed down and whether or not historical sites need to have their history sanitised in order to be accessible.
On 11-12th September 2019, CCSE’s Professor David McGillivray and Dr Severin Guillard attended the conference “Public Spaces: Culture and Integration in Europe” as part of their HERA-funded project, FESTSPACE. This 2-day conference was a good opportunity to meet with members of the other 19 funded projects, and to develop research plans with the FESTSPACE researchers based in London, Dublin, Barcelona and Gothenburg.
During the conference, the team displayed a poster presenting the project’s research questions and the ways they will be addressed in each case study, and held various meetings to discuss future conferences presentations and collective publications.
This event also provided a fruitful opportunity to exchange idea on the theoretical reflection and empirical investigations which have started in each city, and the specificity of the work carried out by each member. While the London team (Dr Andrew Smith, Dr Goran Vodicka and Prof Guy Osborn) has started to investigate everyday interactions in London’s Finsbury Park, Dr Bernadette Quinn and Dr Theresa Ryan (Technological University Dublin) are exploring how expectations for solitude and silence shape encounters in Dublin’s public libraries. Dr Kristina Lindstrom is observing how laws and regulation inform the production of Gothenburg’s festivals, while Dr Alba Colombo highlights how language, place of origin and place of living influence the perception of Barcelona’s events. Finally, the Glasgow team (Prof. David McGillivray, Prof. Gayle McPherson and Dr Severin Guillard) has begun to address the issues at stake in the promotion of Glasgow’s as an event city, involving interviews with public institutions and festival organisers.
More information about the FESTSPACE project is available here Follow the project on Twitter at @FESTSPACE1.
As principle investigator for the Anti-Slavery Knowledge Network funded project Hidden Histories: the untold stories of Slavery and James Town, I have spent a good deal of time in Ghana over the last twelve months.
I have been traveling to, and working in, Ghana for nearly twenty years engaging in various applied theatre programmes (often with project partner the James Town Community Theatre Centre), researching the 2005 copyright law and eating kenke and hot sauce. This project has afforded me the opportunity to engage with the place and the project partners in James Town in a much more sustained way.
The project is a hard one; the focus – modern slavery – is disturbing on many levels and there are plenty of testimonies that we have heard that have been deeply affecting. The organised and sophisticated abuse of children and vulnerable adults and the normalising of exploitation and death is, obviously, awful. What is worse, if anything can be, is the denial that the situation even exists.
Over the course of the year, the project has enabled us to gather multiple testimonies, turn them in to a performance and show it to young people in the community and local schools. Consequently, we have been able to develop a discussion that did not really exist before at the community level and we have seen future community leaders engaging with the issues of modern slavery in James Town.
A doctoral student and research associate at UWS Greis Cifuentes has also found the time to launch a Street Library program – “Libros a la Calle” – in Ibagué, Colombia. The program seeks to facilitate social cohesion alongside the appropriation of public spaces. It is the first time that a program of this nature has been located in the city.
Greis is a founding member and leader of a citizen group Por Ibagué which works to promote a sense of belonging to the city through culture. Libros a la Calle is one of the initiatives developed to progress this aim. Libros a la Calle is based on trust, anyone is free to take, read and return the available books. Over time, 30 libraries will be installed in public parks around Ibagué, financial support for the initiative is provided by private companies and individuals. Currently, there are 6 books donation points around the city and more than 500 books have been given to for the project. Libros a la Calle has had a positive impact in the city. It has not only guaranteed access to culture as a right and expanded the cultural offer in place but, the project has also succeeded in promoting coexistence, contributing to the formation and development of the individual and society in a city where, typically, people read fewer than 3 books per year.
Besides her academic work and citizen activism, Greis has recently accepted a new position as General Coordinator at the Fundación Nacional Batuta in Colombia. Batuta is a non-profit organisation created in 1991. The work that the Foundation undertakes focuses on the improvement of citizens’ quality of life, the construction of social fabric, generation of spaces for reconciliation and coexistence to benefit the children, adolescents and youth of Colombia who have been victims of the armed conflict or, who live in extreme poverty. Through a quality musical education, focused on collective practice, from a perspective of social inclusion, rights and cultural diversity, it has been possible to guarantee children and young people access to the arts and its benefits. Currently, Batuta serves more than 40,000 young people annually across all regions of Columbia. Gries’s work is fully aligned with her thesis topic which examines the role of arts and culture in the Colombian peacebuilding process.
Thanks to her participation in radio programs as Punto de Encuentro Tolima (97.5 FM) in Caracol Radio, work as a columnist for the El Olfato, newspaper and, membership of the editorial board for the Observatory of Peace and Human Rights of the Universidad Tolima, Greis has being invited to present at a number of conferences. In this way she has managed to put the value and importance of arts and culture on the public agenda, being able to discussed issues that were not openly discussed before.
CCSE Professors, David McGillivray and Gayle McPherson recently returned from a week in Tokyo, Japan, as part of an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded Japan-UK project focused on the Paralympic Games and Social Change. The project is designed to build Japanese research capacity around disability studies and sport to positively impact the lives of people with disabilities. In March 2019, six Japanese colleagues visited the UK to learn about disability sport studies and visit Stoke Mandeville, while in June UK colleagues visited Tokyo for a week to understand more about the way the Paralympic Games 2020 are to be leveraged to the benefit of people with disabilities in Japan. Professors McGillivray and McPherson participated in a tour of games venues, helped host a policy forum and shared future research plans during a symposium held at the Houses of Parliament, attended by members of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, government ministers and Japanese academics in the field of disability sport.
Parasport events like the Paralympic Games are often heralded for raising awareness of disability-related issues and for transforming attitudes towards people with a disability in the host nation, and internationally. However, building on several large comparative research projects undertaken over the last five years, Professor’s McGillivray and McPherson have demonstrated the need for concrete, resourced and effectively leveraged strategies if the enthusiasm and excitement generated by events is to be sustained in the longer term.The project continues until December 2019 and progress can be followed at http://paralegacy2020.net/about/.
On the 3rd July 2019, I presented at the Global Strategy Forum, in the National Liberal Club, in Whitehall, London. Global Strategy Forum is an open forum, founded in 2006 and dedicated to the promotion of fresh thinking and active debate on foreign affairs, defence and international security issues. It was an interesting audience of about 80 people; made up of Ambassadors, Lords, Ladies, MPS, ex-military personnel and policy makers. The session was entitled: The GSF/British Council July 2019 Research Launch: ‘Building A Lasting Peace: New Approaches To Conflict And Recovery’.
The website promoted the event saying ‘we were delighted to welcome to GSF Professor Gayle McPherson of the University of the West of Scotland, and Professor Joanne Hughes of the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast’. We presented the key findings of new research commissioned by the British Council on the role of education and culture in international efforts to address the causes of conflict and build sustainable peace and discussed their implications for UK and international peace and security policy. The event was co-chaired by Lord Lothian PC QC DL, Chairman of GSF and Dan Shah, Director, Research at the British Council.
After presentations from Joanne and me, the panel were open to questions from the audience. This was a very well informed audience, who were keen to quiz us on specific examples of the contribution of culture and education to global security and stability. It led to an interesting discussion as I was suggesting unusually, that culture, is often both the cause of conflict and a possible aid in post conflict resolution and indeed in conflict prevention. I discussed examples from our research in Rwanda, Colombia and Syria; Syria continuing to present the most challenge of course, as it is not yet post-conflict. The audience were engaging and some of the questions were a bit left-field but thankfully Dan Shah, Director of Research for the British Council was on hand to help with those. We will continue our work in the fields of cultural diplomacy and soft power; and would be happy to collaborate further with colleagues that are keen to be involved with the Centre. Alison Bailey, from The British Council published a short report in conjunction with us called Art as Peace and this is available from the link below along with Joanne’s report on Education for Peace.