Stories We Tell: History, Mythologies, Memories and Monuments
Posted on: 14 April 2023 by Dr. Mary Booth in 2023 posts
How have national and international narratives influenced how history is taught, represented and interpreted on both sides of the Atlantic? How is this discourse used to mould political dialogue in United States and the United Kingdom? What is the value of democracy?
These were among some of the topics interrogated on the evening of March 24th at a panel hosted by the Centre for the Study of International Slavery (CSIS) in the Museum of Liverpool. As part of the ‘Unfolding Our Shared Future: Challenge, Possibility and Potential in the 21st Century’ – a travelling festival across the UK organized by the American Politics Group of the UK Political Studies Association with support from the US Embassy (London) and the British Association for American Studies – this was the fourth event in the series, generously hosted by the University of Liverpool.
The evening began with introductions marking not only the importance of the forthcoming discussions, but the theme’s unique connection to the city of Liverpool and its history. These included - University of Liverpool, PVC Professor Fiona Beveridge; Executive Director of Museums and Participation at National Museums Liverpool, Janet Dugdale; and Cultural Attaché at the US Embassy, Christina Tribble with concluding remarks by the Chair of the American Politics Group, Professor Philip Davies. During the event, the prestigious panel of international scholars covered a wide range of topics, spanning geographical borders to highlight the importance and nuances of transnational interpretation and its impact.
Dr Laura Sandy, CSIS co-Director and Reader, University of Liverpool
Laura opened the panel discussion, and acted as moderator throughout the event. She provided not only a detailed context for the conversations to come, but also articulated the importance and necessity of further discourse on these topics both in Liverpool and nationwide. Specifically, she outlined the ongoing work throughout the city on the themes of ‘teaching, challenging, changing, and co-producing’ done by CSIS in collaboration with National Museums Liverpool as well as other partners, including the US Embassy. This provided a natural segue to the presentations from our speakers…
Lavinya Stennett, The Black Curriculum
Writer, activist, and Founder and CEO of The Black Curriculum, Lavinya provided participants with a stimulating discussion, beginning with her journey learning Black history in the British education system. She detailed the work of The Black Curriculum including the organization’s outreach and educational initiatives as well as power of the ‘Stories We Tell’ when directed by communities and young scholars.
Additionally, she advocated for a change in contemporary discourse and education from the focus on the individual narratives of certain historical figures to a centering of events and movements that changed history.
She ended with these thought provoking questions for the audience:
Why is there a disconnect between memorials and public knowledge?
Why are we relying on schools to engage students?
How do we move outside the now into the future?
Professor Sarah Churchwell, School of Advanced Study at the University of London
Sarah specializes in topics relating to American literature, culture, and history. For this panel presentation, she discussed her book, published in 2022, entitled ‘The Wrath to Come’ which traces the impact of an infamous portrayal of the south, Gone with the Wind. Specifically, the novel and film's relationship to the myth of the Lost Cause and how they foreshadow the controversies in America today.
Ultimately, Sarah articulates the influence of the fictious ‘Stories We Tell’ – advocating that interrogating the representation of US history, portrayed in Gone With the Wind, serves as a method of undoing the mythologies that American popular culture has been consciously and proactively building around this history.
National and international narratives – whether factual or fictious – on a film screen, presented as history in a classroom or used to justify political acts, immensely influences the way populations, communities and individuals view the world today. It is crucial we continue to interrogate history, mythologies, memories and monuments, actively asking - what are the stories we tell?
The link for the panel discussion can be found here