Collective Memory, Nation-building and Shared Identities Building Memory & Shaping National & International Identities by reclaiming “history”

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Collective Memory, Nation-building and Shared Identities

Building Memory & Shaping National & International Identities by reclaiming “history”

  • Notions of shared history (“facts”) as shared identities

  • Recall

    • film about Head Tax
    • Shared identities and lineages (Zerubavel)

Other ways of thinking about historical connections

Human Descent Models

  • Monogenist

  • Polygenist

A Case Study : African Heritage, Nova Scotia Communities and the Cultural Future

Historical context (recent) Destruction of Africville in the 1970s

  • Video clip from Remember Africville– before (settlement) & after (small park with monument) destruction of the community

Government Policy & Public Administration

  • Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs

Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage as Sites of Memory

    • Heritage preservation BEYOND PHYSICAL “things”
      • Continuing uses & meanings – ideas for contemporary ways of “performing” culture & historic practices
      • Communicating values & techniques (skills)

Example: Re-recreation of “Amistad” voyage (but in the other direction)

Changes in Grade School Curriculum

Collective Memory as Cultural Mediation

  • Not just about rethinking ‘representations’

  • Not a chain of information flowing unchanged from one point to another

    • production, mediation, reception
  • Tangible & intangible heritage as sites of cultural memory

New Perspectives in Theories of Cultural Mediation

  • Core notions:

    • active agency, appropriation (make it your own)
    • lived experience & grounded practice
    • Networks of collaboration, different perspectives
  • Material & symbolic dimensions—

    • cultural heritage implications (material culture important too)

Case Study:

  • Black Loyalist Heritage Preservation in Nova Scotia, Canada

Part 1: Black Loyalist History

  • 1770s– conflict in British Colonies in the New World-- War of Independence (American Revolution)

  • Loyalists (Tories) vs. Rebels (Patriots, Sons of Liberty)


British Promises

  • British policy (1775-Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation: freedom for slaves owned by rebels who fought for British

  • Philipsburg Proclamation, 1779) :

Roles of Black Loyalists

  • Many military units as musicians, guides

  • Army & navy

  • Black Regiments: The Black Pioneers, the Guides, the Jersey Shore volunteers, the King’s American Dragoons etc.

Certificates of Freedom

  • 1783-Treaty of Paris stipulated British evacuate without “carrying away any Negroes or other Property of the American Inhabitants”

  • C. of F: Certified that holder was free at time of Treay of Paris

  • Log of Black Loyalists planning to leave : Carleton’s Book of Negroes

Black Loyalists

  • British left the U.S. with Loyalists—about 3,500 came to Nova Scotia & New Brunswick

Birchtown, Nova Scotia 1783

Harsh Conditions

Struggles & Race Riot

  • late summer and fall arrivals

  • Little experience with cold climate (48 BL African born)

  • Rocky land, little topsoil, dense woods

  • Lack of supplies

  • Black Loyalist land grants delayed

  • Race riot --1784

Continued Hardships, Emigration

  • Bad weather, crop failures, severe winters

  • 1791--Sierra Leone Company offered free passage to Africa to 1200 Black Loyalists Nova Scotia

Migration Routes

Other Important Settlement Sites of Nova Scotians of African Heritage

Part 2:

  • Birchtown Today

  • Harbour and Church

Birchtown today

Mysterious Mounds

  • Material culture & memory

  • Purpose?

  • Symbolism ?

    • Then (?)
    • Now


Importance of Archaeological Records of African American History

  • Few written records by ancestors

  • Few material artefacts (poverty)

  • Links to lost connections to origins (example: waistbeads at African Burial Ground– NYC)

Community Action

  • 1990—Nova Scotia province plans to build a landfill site (dump) on site of the mounds

  • Shelburne County Cultural Awareness Society established to preserve Black Loyalist Heritage (Now Black Loyalist Heritage Society)

Archaeological Digs

  • To authenticate claims for development of Black Loyalist heritage preservation site and document history


SCCAS (Black Loyalist Heritage Society) Initiative

Sign for Monument

First Monument

Community Leadership

  • Founding member of SCCAS Elizabeth Cromwell

  • Other prominent community members who are Black Loyalist descendents: high school principal, church leaders etc.

Participation of Nova Scotia Museum

  • Museum Exhibition


  • Curated by Carmelita Robertson

  • NS Museum of Natural History

  • Travelling exhibit

  • Now in Birchtown Museum

material heritage projects:

  • Commemorative Sites

    • Museum
    • Walking trail & boardwalk
    • Offices
    • Centre

Other Projects

  • Heritage Education Program (curriculum & extra-curricular)

  • Achievement prizes

  • Youth skills initiative

  • Community centre project

  • Black Loyalist Registry

  • Research (continuing archaeological digs)

Connections to International Networks

Black cultural centre (Dartmouth)

Wall honouring African-descended RCMP

Meeting with Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs

But in 2006- Arson Attacks

Biography & Collective Memory: The Charleston Connection

  • NS museum Researchers discovery:

  • Film Loyalities (Canadian Broadcasting Corp., 1998) –screening today -- about

    • their trip to Charleston to visit the plantation where their ancestors lived
    • their experiences of the legacy of slavery

Concluding Remarks: Memory as Mediation

  • biography & collective memory in contemporary cultural practice

  • Example of actor-network theory of “mediation practices”

    • Community leadership BUT also
    • Multi-faceted, ‘cross-disciplinary ’ networks of collaboration:
      • different kinds of people with different backgrounds training expertise &motivations (architaects, archaeologists, historians, community organizers, filmmakers….)
    • Interaction part of meaning-making process

Cultural Preservation as Mediation

  • Cultural heritage preservation NOT just about preservation of objects/material remains

  • Complex interplay of material and symbolic-- past, present and future– but material culture important

  • Collective memory not simply the reconstruction of something that previously existed

  • Preservation efforts vital to contemporary cultural practices— New collective understandings of culture --enhance lived experience now & build cultural future

Image Credits

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