Sun | Jan 20, 2019

'Plantation to Nation' seeks to explore museums' role in national identity

Published:Sunday | March 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM

On Friday, March 14, local museum professionals and academics gathered at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Museum to attend the Jamaican launch of the new publication Plantation to Nation: Caribbean Museums and National Identity (2013)'.

Jointly staged by the UWI Museum and National Museum Jamaica, the launch brought together co-editor, Alissandra Cummins, director of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, and two of the authors based in Jamaica, Dr Veerle Poupeye, and Dr Rebecca Tortello. Cummins, who also lectures in Heritage Studies at the UWI Cave Hill, served as the main speaker.

Rationale for the book

Cummins explained the rationale for the book in a single sentence: "Museums that interpret our history must themselves be interpreted, because they are also products of history." She said that the idea for the book came from her own teaching experiences at the tertiary level.

She faced challenges finding sources she could use with her students that spoke to the evolution of Caribbean museums from the colonial-era institutions which supported imperialistic goals to today's museums that aim to recover submerged or marginalised histories, assert national identities, and celebrate cultural diversity.

Both Jamaican contributors gave an informal glimpse of their chapters.

Dr Poupeye spoke about her exploration of the role of art museums and galleries in helping to define national identity through a critical analysis of particular pieces of Jamaican art. "It might be called a forensic analysis of how the history of Jamaican art has been narrated," she said.

Jamaican children's experiences

Dr Tortello spoke of Jamaican children's experiences in museums and said their memories were largely positive, based on the individual connections they made with persons or objects. "This connection," she explained, "reinforced the need to encourage child and family visitors and to see museums as important, informal educational institutions that can significantly augment classroom-based teaching and learning."

Plantation to Nation, published by Common Ground Publishers, is the first text to focus on the growth and development of Caribbean museums and museology, to address museums across the region regardless of nation or language, and to allow for much-needed discourse on their evolution. The hope is that the collection of 16 essays will prove useful to those working in museums and heritage studies in all capacities.

The book is available on Amazon and can be ordered directly from the publisher in print or electronic forms. For more information, see