From Local to Global will connect with researchers and environmentalists across the UK and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The project, which received funding of £ 130,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, will use as a focal point the Harrison Collection, part of the Museums Trust collections named after Colonel James Harrison (1857-1923) of Brandesburton Hall, East Yorkshire.
Harrison embarked on expeditions around the world to hunt sports and animal trophies, and in 1904 brought six indigenous peoples from the Ituri forest to what was then known as the Belgian Congo (people who were believed to have been described as “pygmies”) which he toured the country in public exhibits, most notably at the London Racecourse and in the House of Commons.
The Harrison Collection of Artifacts collected by or belonging to Colonel Harrison includes taxidermized animals, diaries, phonograph records and photographs, creating a comprehensive record of our colonial past.
It will be the starting point for activities, including the development of a network of ‘citizen researchers’ recruited from local community groups, including the Museums Trust’s own volunteers, with the support of the Scarborough Library and volunteers from Scarborough Conservation, to research the collection and connect with environmental experts, activists and academics here and in the Republic to research Harrison, colonialism and broader environmental issues.
The project also aims to develop a campaign to encourage action and advocacy for the environment, as well as a school learning program for primary, secondary and sixth grade students.
It will include a year-long program of films, lectures, artist commissions and a website to attract a wide and diverse audience, culminating in an exhibition at the Scarborough Art Gallery next fall that will build on community-led research and will offer a range of alternative perspectives.
The project will be overseen by East Yorkshire-based Gifty Burrows, an experienced inclusive practitioner who led the Heritage Lottery-funded African Stories in Hull and East Yorkshire, which explored the stories of local people of African descent, and From Local to Global will build on this work.
Gifty said: “The historic imprint left on Scarborough through this collection provides insight into 20th century colonial attitudes and values attached to Africa, its people, culture and natural resources. It is hoped that by exploring Harrison’s expeditions in the Ituri Forest in particular, we are better able to rebalance the misunderstandings that still resonate today.
“The design of the project brings together many complex themes but with recognizable strands as contemporary issues such as the loss of cash, our changing environment and the hidden aspect of forced labor in a way that connects Yorkshire to the rest of the world.
Scarborough Museums Trust curator Dorcas Taylor said: “This project is not only important to the Scarborough Museums Trust, but also to our local communities and to those who still live with the impacts of our colonial past.
“We want to make visible a part of Yorkshire history that says a lot about past attitudes towards people and places that experienced colonial rule and reflect on the lessons to be learned from that.
“We also want to use this project as a constructive platform to share the stories and voices of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help communities organize themselves to respond to the environmental challenges that ultimately affect us all. “
Andrew Clay, Managing Director of Scarborough Museums Trust, said: “This project is really important to us as it gives us the opportunity to sensitively reassess a collection that has been hidden from view for a number of years.
“Visitors will be able to see the Harrison Collection and take a critical look at how Africa has been portrayed in a way that has yet to be addressed. Without it, we would not be able to undertake such an ambitious and vital project.
Dorcas said: ‘We hope this project inspires the people of Scarborough or Yorkshire to get involved in finding historic links with the Democratic Republic of the Congo or exploring the links between our natural environment and that of the Republic today’ hui. This project opens up so many ways to learn more about our shared histories and to create present and future local and global collaborations.