By: Rachel Lang
Last Tuesday I took four 17-year-old work experience students to Kenwood House in Hampstead, North London. Kenwood was the home of Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761–1804), the great-niece of the Chief Justice William Murray, Lord Mansfield (1709-1793); she was the daughter of his nephew Sir John Lindsay and an African woman enslaved in the West Indies named Maria Belle. Tomorrow, I’m taking the same students to see the film Belle, Hollywood’s take on the story of her life. I thought it would be interesting to compare the film with the history as it actually happened – but then I discovered Miranda Kaufmann’s blog on this very subject and realised it has been covered much better elsewhere. This got me thinking about a wide range of other blogs which I’ve also read with great enjoyment, so I thought I would share with you my favourite sites. This is a blog post about other blogs!
Miranda Kaufmann is a historian of the African presence in Tudor and Stuart England. Her blog often describes her reaction to the portrayal of Black history in the mainstream media and in museums. For example, listening to an interview with Onyeka on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in December last year led to a post about ‘Egyptians’ in Tudor England. I like blogs which challenge other people’s points of view, so I especially enjoyed her post ‘Presenting the Black Past – How History Must Change the Media’.I also recommend the blog site ‘Black Africans in Renaissance Europe’ for discussions about the representation of Black people in medieval and early modern paintings and for the way this art is presented in galleries.
Many museums and archives have their own blogs and a large number of guest bloggers make these sites invaluable for the range and unpredictability of the subjects they cover. Perhaps one of the best and most readableis the blog of The National Archives in London. I particularly liked a post, ‘Calling All A Level History Teachers’, which gives an overview of the collections of documents available online covering major developments from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. This led me to take a look at the trial documents of Charles I, available on their Civil War website. One joy of reading blogs is that one topic leads you to another link and so on until you’ve found something fascinating which is far from your own specialised subject.
The National Archives and Records Administration in Washington hosts a blog site called Rediscovering Black History; most of these posts are about twentieth century America but there are also discussions of immigration and emancipation which are useful for historians of the Caribbean. Browsing this site I found a post ‘Federal Records Documenting Caribbean Immigrants: 1890-1930’ which led me to an article in Prologue magazine entitled Ancestors from the West Indies. Downloadable as a pdf, it gives invaluable information on American sources for West Indian immigration.
The Black Presence in Britain has a great guest blog site. I recently read a post here on ‘Somali Seafarers in Wales’, which was not something I expected to be able to find out about. Their section on ‘Black People in Europe’ includes an article by Rovianne Matovu about the Slavery trail at Nantes Museum in North-western France.
Finally, I want to mention three blogs written by people researching their own family histories. If you are interested in eighteenth century connections between Britain and Jamaica then it’s worth exploring Anne Powers’ site ‘A Parcel of Ribbons’ in detail. Dorothy Kew’s site ‘My Jamaican Family’ includes an interesting series about her upbringing in Jamaica in the early to mid-twentieth century. And although it hasn’t been updated for a while, I did enjoy the series of blog posts on the ‘Finding Family’ website both for their historical details and the immediacy of the author’s reactions to her discoveries. Happy reading!