In honor of International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, which was August 23rd, we pause to reflect on the potential to better connect US heritage sites to the global effort to tell the full story of slavery.
Ignorance or concealment of major historical events constitutes an obstacle to mutual understanding, reconciliation and cooperation among peoples. For this reason, UNESCO launched its Slave Route Project to break the silence surrounding the slave trade and slavery that have affected all continents and have caused the great upheavals that have shaped our modern societies.
Thanks to a partnership with the National Park Service, US/ICOMOS has launched an initiative as part of its 50th Anniversary Pathway to Diversity project to explore new ways to link US heritage professionals to this international effort. A first step has been to bring on board Ms. Sheba Imtiaz as a research associate. Sehba is pursuing a Masters in Historic Preservation at the University of Maryland School of Architecture. Her work is being made possible through the support of the University and of the NPS’s Cultural Resources Diversity Internship Program (CRDIP). Sehba penned the following about her work so far:
“My summer internship at the US/ICOMOS Directorate in Washington, DC is focused on researching US involvement in the UNESCO Slave Route Project. The Slave Route Project started in 1994, and was an initiative is designed to encourage Member States to inventory, protect and promote these memorial sites and places and to include them in national and regional tourism itineraries. In addition, UN declared 2015-2025 as the International Decade for People of African Descent, as part of a broader program which includes the General History of Africa, and Remember Slavery, UN’s education initiative. The goal is to be able to create a list, or bibliography, of various US initiatives, programs, exhibits, or collaborations related to various aspects of the Slave Route Project. From this list, we can begin to understand how cultural heritage and historic sites here can further advance the project.
By understanding the work that has been done, we can provide a framework for guidelines and create a platform for historic sites to share best management practices for interpretation on slavery and the slave trade. This in turn can provide guidance to small historic house museums, sites, and monuments on how to research and demonstrate an international context to the history of slavery at their site.
One such example is Slavery and Remembrance, a collaborative effort between the UNESCO Slave Route Project and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Its aim is to engage the both the public and experts with issues related to slavery, slave trade, and how they are remembered today. More than 50 museums, historical sites, and institutions throughout Europe, Africa, and Americas have joined the project.
It is an exciting opportunity to be able to work with big names such as UNESCO and Colonial Williamsburg, and through this project, I am able to meet such incredible people who understand and demonstrate through their work that the consequences of slavery continued on through the Civil Rights Movement, and in fact are still felt today in issues of race. The work done with this project sheds light on the importance of intangible heritage in historic preservation.
This project will play a role in the development of the six themes US/ICOMOS is currently pursuing, particularly focusing on the theme of helping diverse American communities tell their stories. Through this work, our aim is to connect diasporic, diverse American communities whose heritage draws context and meaning from places outside the US to international research, resources and experts on those places.”