The Reimagining New England Histories: Historical Injustice, Sovereignty and Freedom project tells Black and Indigenous histories through publications, educational programming and exhibitions. Founded in 2021, the initiative is a grant-funded partnership between Williams College, Mystic Seaport Museum and the Brown Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice.
The central focus of the initiative is to “address the marginalization of Indigenous and Black bodies” in the history of New England through various programs and events, according to Akeia de Barros Gomes, senior curator of maritime social histories at the Mystic Seaport Museum.
The program is currently working on an exhibit at the Mystic Seaport Museum titled “Entwined,” which illustrates how stories of Indigenous and Black Americans are inseparable from the history of New England, according to Tom Van Winkle, executive director of the Williams-Mystic Coastal and Ocean Studies Program. The exhibit will be on display next year.
Van Winkle said that students will contribute to the installation by creating the artistic work that will be displayed, conducting historical research work and participating in internships at the Museum over the summer.
Through the initiative, the Williams Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is planning to host an undergraduate summer cohort aboard a ship sailing along the coast of New England.
The 20 students selected to participate in the weeklong experience will travel to various Black and Indigenous communities and learn about their histories from local activists and historians, Van Winkle said.
Though the summer program was initially intended to serve only Williams and Brown students, Van Winkle hopes that it will eventually be available to undergraduates from any college.
The initiative also plans to “create a print book and digital website for the publication that will foreground the historical and lived experiences of” Indigenous, African American and Afro-Indigenous communities, according to the Reimagining New England Histories website.
According to de Barros Gomes, any Black and Indigenous community member can share stories for the initiative’s exhibition and publication.
The initiative also hosts educational programs which currently reach students as early as high school and as late as graduate school.
For high schoolers, the initiative hosts a summer institute related to Black and Indigenous histories, de Barros Gomes wrote.
And at the graduate level, she wrote that the Frank C. Munson Institute at the Mystic Seaport Museum is amplifying the project’s narratives through lectures and field seminars.
At Brown, CSSJ is contributing to the initiative by producing curriculum materials for K-12 history courses to tell a fuller, reimagined history of New England, according to CSSJ Director Tony Bogues.
Bogues said that he hopes the initiative can tell histories through “the voices of those persons who have been historically dispossessed” to better understand “the ways in which those conditions” impact the present.
Bogues added that CSSJ aims to highlight the dispossession of Indigenous populations of their land and the enslavement of Black people, demonstrating that the two processes “are two grounds on which America was formed,” especially in New England.
De Barros Gomes said that she hopes “this project will represent a first step in the creation and development of reciprocal, sustainable and meaningful relationships between the institutions involved and Black and Indigenous communities.”
Clarification: This story has been updated to indicate that the Williams Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is hosting the program aboard a ship.