New £1m project reassesses history of Native Americans in Britain

Researchers at the University of East Anglia and University of Kent have begun a major three-year project to provide a comprehensive history of Native North Americans in Britain over the last 450 years.

The researchers are also asking the public for help to uncover previously unknown historical objects and stories related to this subject that may be in their family.

The project, entitled Beyond the Spectacle: Native North American Presence in Britain, will look to document all forms of Native North American travel across the Atlantic, whether it resulted in return trips, onward movement into Europe, or even long-term residence in Britain.

Although focusing over a wide span of 450 years, the project will have a particular focus on the last 150 years to the present day, a period which previously has not been examined in any depth.

It will also look beyond the traditional focus on metropolitan centres such as London and instead examine how Native visitors travelled throughout Britain and established mutual relationships, economic exchanges, and cultural connections across the whole country.

To do this the project researchers - Prof Jacqueline Fear-Segal of UEA’s School of Art, Media and American Studies, Prof David Stirrup in the School of English at Kent and two Research Associates - will draw upon a diverse range of source material, much of it never previously examined, including archival holdings, museum collections, and oral histories.

They will also use a dynamic crowd sourcing campaign to uncover stories and material objects retained by private individuals or by descendant communities of those Native North Americans who travelled to Britain or who made their home here.

Anyone who thinks they may have information of interest is asked to visit the project website or email: beyondthespectacle@kent.ac.uk.

The project is funded by a £1 million grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

As well as traditional scholarly analysis, the researchers intend to present the material they uncover in a variety of exciting and thought-provoking ways. For example, four artist residencies will allow Native artists - working in visual, performative and musical media - to showcase representations of their own engagement with findings from the archives; a Native artist will be based at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts; and a Native musician will spend a month with a Norwich community choir.

Digital mapping will also allow the project to produce ground-breaking interactive maps of the journeys made by Native travellers, which will create powerful visual representations of these transatlantic networks.

The findings of the project will be disseminated as widely as possible, including through public workshops, the creation of educational resources for school students, creative partnerships with local art groups across Britain, and open discourse with Native communities in the USA and Canada.

Image: Getty - Queen Elizabeth II meets members of the Mohegan tribe at Southwark Cathedral in London on November 22, 2006.

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