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Bermudian historian sheds light on the past

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Significant gaps in Bermuda's early recorded history reflecting a 'mutual forgetting of the past' (as another historian put it), by such noted historians as Lefroy with respect to slavery, poor whites and Portuguese, were pinpointed in an address by Kristy Warren, a PhD student who has done extensive work in both the Bermuda Archives and Britain's National Archive in Kew, England.

Kristy was speaking on the subject of 'How the Past Matters' in a lecture sponsored by CURB at the Cathedral Hall in Hamilton. CURB is a non-Governmental organisation of volunteers working to identify and dismantle racism in Bermuda. She has a Master's Degree in Race and Ethnic Studies from the University of Warwick for which she wrote a thesis on Race and Class in Bermudian Society. In addition she earned a Bachelor of Honours Degree in Combined Humanities from Newbold College.

A month ago the Bermuda Government brought Kristy back to the Island to present the 6th Annual Robinson-Packwood Memorial Lecture at the Bermuda College, sponsored by the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs.

The lecture was found to be so enlightening many in the audience felt it would be beneficial for a wider audience to hear it, and CURB facilitated the platform at the Cathedral Hall.

Asserting that the past does matter, Kristy noted that historical narratives were influenced by the time in which historians such as Lefroy, Wilkinson and others wrote; and how their narratives impacted on early 20th Century histories portraying a Bermuda that was not as 'honky-dory' as portrayed.

Lefroy and Wilkinson did not question the colonial discourse which saw colonialism as a progressive force for good as this was the accepted discourse of the day. In this narrative the settlers of Bermuda were part of a larger story of the formation of the British Empire.

Alluding to Governor Lefroy's big volumes, she said on the positive side while he was very interested in Bermuda's social history, he was more interested in Bermuda's parliamentary history. Thus the dominant narrative, as she put it, found in histories about Bermuda was for a long time part of a colonial discourse which praised the settlers but did not reflect the achievements of black Bermudians

That meant part of Bermuda's story was not being told. And for a long time the counter narrative survived in both archival documents, that had been ignored or sidelined, as well as in oral form. But this changed in the 1970s when authors such as Cyril Packwood, Dr Kenneth Robinson, and Nellie Musson wrote books that highlighted the contributions made by black Bermudians.

More recently, Kristy pointed out in an intense question and answer period after her main presentation that historians in both Bermuda and the US have been trying to further understand the social relationships that occurred between Bermudians of various origins. This kind of history focuses on how people in Bermuda interacted with one another and uses primary sources and oral interviews to gain more information about the past. They move away from history as narrative (whether dominant or counter) and try to critically assess the documents that remain.

What this shows us is that history is a process; it is not simply the narratives that we have come to understand as being fact. Understanding history as a process means learning about how historians use both written and oral sources to craft narratives about the past.

Kristy Warren a Bermudian PhD student at Warwick University in the UK took time out from her studies to come home to give a series of lectures on the subject of How the Past Matters. She is shown above with her mother who is Deputy Principal at St.George?s Primary School; and Catherine Hay (left).
Photos by Ira Philip Kristy Warren with Leila Wadson(left) and Joy T. Barnum (right), who were among some engaging Kristy in a spirited question and answer period after her lecture at the Cathedral Hall

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Published September 17, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated September 17, 2011 at 8:14 am)

Bermudian historian sheds light on the past

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