Lottie Roberts and Lucy Brayson Look Back at Their Time with the David Livingstone Birthplace
As it’s our last day at the David Livingstone Trust we thought it apt to do a quick recap over the highlights of our time here.
Right from the start we were in at the deep-end, conducting in-depth research on topics, things and people we had never heard of to aid the Curator in writing the interpretation for the whole museum (lots of other people were also involved in this process and have become mini-experts on their topics). We also began object handling straight away, helping to catalogue the Blantyre Works Library and looking out for extra special details like doodles done by children more than 100 years ago.
I [Lottie] was given the task of compiling a names list of everyone who might have even a tenuous link to objects in the collection. Over the course of a few weeks, over 600 names were featured on the list – including as many of the Africans who were employed by and worked with Livingstone on his travels as I could identify and listing as much information known about them as I could to give them equal standing with Livingstone’s more well documented European companions and colleagues. One of the people who has been the most interesting to learn about is Selim Hishmeh, Stanley’s Palestinian interpreter, who ended up moving to Scotland and working as a doctor (and stonemason) after touring America and Europe lecturing on his experiences. I’ve also developed a zine-based school workshop for older students to discuss abolitionism in Scotland and David Livingstone’s role in the abolition of the East Africa slave trade.
On a similar scale, Lucy was responsible for finding out more about the African objects in the collection, and identifying which objects weren’t from the areas of Africa which David Livingstone visited. She tried to find out some of the information that was missing from our documentation by comparing our objects to those found in collections made available online by other organisations such as the British Museum, Pitt-Rivers Museum, Africa Museum and Smithsonian. Although it was not possible to identify everything, we now have a greater understanding of the purpose and origin of many of these objects, and our volunteers continue to build on this. Lucy has also been working on an exhibition focussed specifically on Blantyre’s rich history, from the mill works to the mines and the museum which will be displayed in the refurbished Visitor Centre closer to the reopening of the museum itself.
It’s been really fun for both of us to learn so much and be so involved with all aspects of getting a museum ready to reopen. There have been so many strange and interesting objects passing through the office, for example a stuffed baby caiman and a telescope with shallow, faded inscriptions that we worked to decode. As well as being let loose on social media for the first nine months, we ran the Crowdfunder campaign, which allowed the Trust to buy a magic lantern slide which is to be displayed in the museum and aid the interpretation to discuss the role of missionaries in the colonisation of Africa.
We are going to miss the Birthplace team a lot and are so grateful for all we support we’ve had from them during this last year.
We can’t wait to return once the museum is open to view our hard work along with the rest of the public.