The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC provides an amazing look at the heritage of over 40 million people. A visit is a rich and rewarding experience for anyone. What would a resource like this look like on St. Martin?
The richness of the museum is a reflection of the richness of the culture it presents. The museum gives a detailed history of the black experience in America. But often cultural aspects are the strongest and provide us with our best connections to the past. Both African American culture and the Afro-Caribbean culture of St. Martin have countless facets to explore.
The histories of both places share the horrors of the slavery era and the challenges of sharing an era when black voices were suppressed and excluded from the record. One way of helping visitors connect with the lives of enslaved people was sharing objects and stories from everyday life, even an entire home that was brought into the museum and restored.
Another key method was using peoples’ own words to tell their stories and reveal history. From old letters and documents to recordings and interviews made more recently, much of the story was told by those who lived it. Seeing these words and hearing these voices helped visitors connect deeply.
The museum also drew heavily on culture and art. The African diaspora includes many of the greatest musicians, performers and artists of all time. Music and art were featured in their own galleries, but they were also used all over the museum, making other materials more engaging. Intangible culture and heritage were presented on equal footing with objects and documents.
The museum also had opportunities for visitors to share their stories and connect them to history. The Family Research Center helps visitors explore their genealogy to learn more about their ancestors. Reflections Booths located on the museum floor give visitors a chance to share their own stories.
All of these techniques could be used in a St. Martin Museum of Afro-Caribbean History and Culture. Right now, the story is not told as well as it should be, even though it is the history of most of the people on the island.
What Afro-Caribbean history or culture would you want to see in a St. Martin museum? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or [email protected].