Rijksmuseum makes Slavery a Topic of Discussion in the Classroom

Rijksmuseum makes Slavery a Topic of Discussion in the Classroom

Amsterdam, Willemstad – The Rijksmuseum sent nearly 1,600 copies of the magazine “Slavery and now?” to Curaçao last week, where it will be distributed to all eighth grade pupils. Last week, the museum published the magazine in collaboration with educational publisher ThiemeMeulenhoff and in relation to the Slavery Exhibition in the Rijksmuseum. It has also been delivered to every primary school in the Netherlands.

Thijs Gerbrandy works in the educational department of the Rijksmuseum. He is one of the persons responsible for the magazine “Slavery and now?”. Gerbrandy is a primary education specialist. “My job is to ensure that the stories behind the objects of the Rijksmuseum are conveyed to pupils in primary education.” The newssite spoke to him about the magazine.

What do the Rijksmuseum and ThiemeMeulenhoff wish to achieve with the magazine?

We believe that slavery should be a subject of discussion in the classroom. By immersing themselves in the subject and talking to each other, students realize that the past of slavery still has an impact on the present. The consequences are still visible today. As spoken word-artist Rachel Rumai Diaz puts it in the magazine like this: “You don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’re coming from. “

The magazine brings slavery closer to the students by making it personal. It’s about people. In the first article, Aspha Bijnaar describes a day in the life of Tirara, an enslaved girl. Closing her story, Bijnaar emphasizes that her immediate family was enslaved. It concerns our great-great-grandparents and is therefore not that long ago.

We offer teachers tools to discuss the topic in the classroom. Students learn about our slavery past though the magazine. Not in the form of numbers, but precisely by emphasizing the human side. There is also a QR code in the magazine. Teachers can scan the code for lesson suggestions on the ThiemeMeulenhoff website.

Is the magazine a replacement for the regular curriculum on slavery? Or do you view it as a supplement?

The magazine complements whatever the teachers plan to cover. Some schools discuss the history of slavery very extensively, while others discuss it a lot less. The supplementary lesson suggestions and the magazine are a kind of teaching package. Most importantly, the history of slavery cannot only be discussed within the subject of history, but also in other subjects. For example, for the Rijksmuseum, art is also an interesting starting point.

How did the Rijksmuseum deal with the makers of the magazine? Has there been enough influence from people from diverse backgrounds?

We worked closely with the authors of the articles and determined the content together. For example, Aspha Bijnaar wrote the first story. She is also the coordinator of Musea Bekennen Kleur, a collaborative project with more than thirty museums for more inclusiveness and diversity in the museum world. Bijnar herself teaches about slavery in primary schools. Her story about the enslaved Tirara on the Liefdenshoek plantation in Surinam fits well in the magazine and the world of children. Bijnaar’s family now owns the former plantation. That makes the piece even more tangible.

The Curaçao photographer Dustin Thierry took pictures. His critical attitude towards society and institutions such as the Rijksmuseum created interesting conversations about how we as a museum should look to the future.

The interviewee Sabitah Lanoy has only just moved to the Netherlands. She comes from Curaçao and thinks that young people there should be proud of their country, despite the slavery past.

Milouska Meulens’ play focuses mainly on researching her own history. She is also from Curaçao and is well known in the Netherlands, including as a former presenter of the Youth News.

We all know Jennifer Tosch in the museum world for her Black Heritage Tours. She was born in the United States, but her parents are from Surinam. Her city walks make Black history visible. We have used her expertise to show that the slavery past can still be seen everywhere.

I am also very happy with the piece “5x What You Really Need to Know About Racism and Slavery”. It was written by Miguel Heilbron and Tarim Flach of The Black Archives and Fawaka World Citizenship. Their article makes the connection between colonialism, the slavery past and contemporary racism.

Why did you also send the magazine to Curaçao?

Mainly because it contains two beautiful articles by writers from Curaçao: the family tree of Milouska Meulens and the interview with Sabitah Lanoy. In addition, Tula is one of ten people who are central to the exhibition about slavery.

But it also contains, for example, a story about the resistance hero One Tété Lohkay from Sint Maarten. Why didn’t you send the magazine to the other islands?

In the process of producing the pieces about Curaçao we came into contact with people who are connected to education in Curaçao. They wanted to hand it out to the students for us. But we are open to all islands and Surinam.

We therefore see the distribution of the magazine on Curaçao as the next step for further educational cooperation with the islands and Surinam.

The question remains: how can we learn from each other? I am especially very happy with all the conversations that arise from the making of the magazine. Most of the people here in the Rijksmuseum are white. This is also the case at ThiemeMeulenhoff. Collaborating with people from different backgrounds, I find, leads to inspiring conversations.

In order to shed light on the slavery past, we must be aware of our own privilege. I too, partly because of my upbringing and family history, have prejudices or assumptions. There is always a certain perspective and a direction from which we look at history and the present. In my opinion we should be more aware of that.

The Rijksmuseum does not want to impose any views on slavery on anyone. That is not a pleasant attitude. We do not own the truth. In fact, the magazine was made together with people who do not work at the Rijksmuseum but who are specialized or have a lot of experience with the subject.

My big wish is that everyone can access the magazine, also on the islands. It is difficult to send all interested persons a physical copy. But the PDF-copy is already accessible to everyone. The ultimate goal is that students can get started, in whatever way.

I see the magazine as a catalyst for other forms of cooperation with the islands and hopefully with Surinam as well. Then, we can learn from each other and strengthen one another.

Read the magazine here.

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