Animating Caribbean Collections at the British Museum

Wendy Shearer, Author entering the British Library archives

What’s in the archives?

This week I had my first meeting in the belly of the British Museum Library and Archives with Dr. Amara Thornton – historian of archaeology and research fellow and Michelle Keeley-Adamson –  historian/Egyptologist & illustrator. Together we have started a new project where we will be ‘animating Caribbean Collections’. We’ll be developing a new piece of work after looking at archaeological artifacts from former British Colonies in the Caribbean which are stored in the British Museum. Some of them have never been displayed and many are not represented photographically in the Museum’s Collections Online.

Letters from Collectors

During our first meeting, we transcribed handwritten letters from collectors Sir Graham Briggs and Rev Greville John Chester to British Museum curator Sir Augustus Franks, dating back to the late 19th century about their findings of Carib wares and tools in Barbados. I was startled by the mixture of emotions I felt when reading about how these artifacts were obtained and who profited from their sale and exhibition. Alongside the words, their intentions and passions leaped off the pages. More on that as this project unfolds.

Asking Questions

I’m thrilled to be going on this remarkable journey of uncovering stories where I can draw upon my expertise and contribute to the British Museum’s interpretation by highlighting the historic role of African-Caribbean and Indigenous Caribbean people in recovering Caribbean artifacts. Next week we will be meeting with curators and getting to see firsthand, some of these collections. It will be a great opportunity for knowledge exchange. Part of my work will be to hear the stories around these collections, to find out why they are not on display and to amplify the voices of the indigenous people who originally owned them. I can’t wait to create a new piece of work, illustrating our findings.