Events for the public

Can we know what is was like to be enslaved? A (public) discussion

Saturday 8 October 2016, Studio Space, MShed Museum

We all know what is was like to be enslaved…or do we? Popular films such as 12 Years a Slave, based on Solomon Northup's memoir, give us some idea about the lives of slaves in the United States. But for the enslaved in the Caribbean and Africa, there are few written accounts about their lives and those slaves that did have the chance to tell their story were often limited by slave owners and publishers in what they were able to say. This discussion will consider how, in the absence of written accounts, a group of contemporary writers have attempted to reconstruct the lives of the enslaved using archaeological evidence as a starting point. A panel of experts including archaeological scientists, literary scholars and creative writers will consider what science can tell us about slavery, the value of fictional accounts of slave lives, and how reconstructing these experiences impacts on our understanding of history. The discussion will open and close with a reading of new work by Ralph Hoyte and Vanessa Kisuule.

This event is free to attend and is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Slavery: Close to the Bone

Saturday 22 October 2016, 2pm, Georgian House Museum

Come and hear readings and performances of new writing on the lives of the enslaved in the intimate setting of the Georgian House Museum. Inspired by archaeological evidence about the lives of the enslaved in Barbados and Gran Canaria, five writers will read extracts from their work simultaneously in different rooms in the house. Audience members will rotate between readings and rooms during the one hour performance and will be encouraged to reflect on the history of this house built on the profits of the slave trade and on how we remember past lives. With Jenny Davis, Cedar Monteith, Valda Jackson, Ros Martin and Edson Burton.

This event is free to attend and is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.


Writing Remains: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on Archaeology and Literature

Friday 20th January 2017, Clifton Hill House, University of Bristol

‘It’s a kind of literary archaeology: on the basis of some information and a little bit of guesswork you journey to a site to see what remains were left behind and to reconstruct the world that these remains imply’. Toni Morrison is not the only writer to have imagined her work as a kind of archaeological digging, as an imaginative excavation of the past and a reconstruction of past lives from remains.

From Wordsworth’s call to ‘grieve not, rather find / strength in what remains’ to Heaney’s bog poetry, writers have interrogated the significance of the earth, the buried, remains and fragments, and drawn upon techniques and tools associated with archaeology as a means of thinking about history, memory and the body. Conversely, archaeologists have begun to examine the potential influence of literature on their approaches to material traces and human remains. In the introduction to their 2015 book Subject and Narrative in Archaeology, Ruth M. Van Dyke and Reinhard Bernbeck note that there is an ‘increasing clamour for and interest in alternative forms of archaeological narratives, involving writing fiction, making films, constructing hypertexts, and creating media that transcend the traditional limitations of expository prose’ and that ‘Visual art, fiction, creative nonfiction, film, and drama have much to offer archaeological interpretation and analysis’. Literary critical approaches are also being recognised as useful ways of thinking about archaeological processes: for archaeologist John Hines, there is an ‘affinity between the scholarly disciplines’, archaeology involving ‘the same exercises of interpretation, analysis and evaluation as literary criticism.’

This conference brought together archaeologists, literary scholars and creative writers to explore similarities and points of convergence between literature, literary studies and archaeology across historical periods.

Download the Writing Remains conference programme (PDF, 365kB)