On 2 May 2013, the Natural History Museum in Copenhagen hosted an inspiration day for Danish teachers on slavery called “Slavery and the Slave Trade: An Interdisciplinary perspective” (SEE PDF). The day was aimed at educators across the curriculum subject range – both in primary and high school school – and included presentations with historical, natural history, molecular biology, art historical and biological anthropological perspectives. The overall objective was to provide ideas and tools from new research that could be incorporated dynamically in the classroom.
EUROTAST postdoc Temi Odumosu opened the day with an introduction to EUROTAST and a presentation on “Teaching Slavery with images”, which focussed on using historical imagery as a means of exploring contemporary issues. She presented a range of historical artworks (some from Danish collections) representing slavery and the African presence; discussed the over reliance on certain motifs such as the Brookes slave ship plan to convey this history; and then interrogated contemporary cultural legacies by looking at the colonial motifs and stereotypes still present in Danish advertising and brand packaging.
EUROTAST project manager Hannes Schroeder then gave a presentation on “Ancient DNA and EUROTAST”, which used the contemporary interest from African descendant communities in genetic ancestry testing as a window onto thinking about how DNA can be used to answer questions about slavery and African origins. He explored the challenges of working with ancient DNA samples from historical sites in the Americas, and showed how genomic technologies are being used to mine data from the remaining fragments, in an attempt to more specifically determine where enslaved Africans might have come from.
The day continued with further contributions from colleagues across Copenhagen University and its heritage organisations, and included memorable show and tell sessions with extinct amphibians from the Zoological Museum collected from the former Danish West Indies, and medicinal herbs from the collections of the Museum of Natural Medicine.
The following is an outline of the programme:
10.00 Temi Odumosu (Statens Naturhistoriske Museum): Introduction to EUROTAST + ”Teaching Slavery with Images”
10.50 Hannes Schroeder (Statens Naturhistoriske Museum): Ancient DNA & EUROTAST
11.50 Erik Gøbel (Rigsarkivet): Om dansk slavehandel og slaveriet i Dansk Vestindien (on danish slave trade history)
13.15 Mogens Andersen (Statens Naturhistoriske Museum): Om apoteker Riises naturhistoriske indsamlinger på St. Thomas i kolonitiden (the zoological collections by pharmacist Riise at St. Thomas)
14.10 Pia Bennike (Saxo-Instituttet, KU): Biologisk antropologi – studier af knoglemateriale fra slaver (biological antrophology, bone materials from slaves)
15.05 Niklas Thode Jensen (Saxo-Instituttet, KU): Sundhed og sygdom blandt plantageslaver (health conditions of plantation slaves)
15.55 Jens Soelberg (NaturMedicinsk Museum, KU): Samlingen af slavernes medicinplanter fra St. Thomas (collection of plants from St. Thomas)
– Post by Temi Odumosu