Placement Spotlight: The National Trust - Translating the Language of Empire project

From the summer of 2023 into February 2024, I embarked on a placement with the National Trust. I assisted with the Translating the Language of Empire project – an initiative focused on centring and contextualising material culture, visual representation, and historical connections between properties and collections in the care of the National Trust and past and present Indigenous American and First Nations peoples and communities.

The project allowed me to work collaboratively within a large team of National Trust curators, led by Dr Christo Kefalas, and advised by Indigenous scholars the art historian Dr Stephanie Pratt and anthropologist and historian Dr Buck Woodard. I drew upon my prior work to advise curators on future interpretation around connections between Knole and the Virginia Company, the significance of Indigenous place names on the 1592 Molyneux Globe at Petworth, and connections between Petworth and the Percy families to; the Roanoke colony, the establishment of Jamestown, and the stories of Indigenous figures such as Manteo and Wanchese, Powhatan and Pocahontas.

As part of the project, I embarked on an extensive visit with the team to National Trust properties in the southwest of England (a space rich in connections to colonial activity in the Americas). From these trips I developed an independent research project that sought to Indigenise Devon by focusing upon the connections between a National Trust property, its historic inhabitants, and their colonial enterprise, and impacted Indigenous communities. I sought to build for the Trust a picture of the Indigenous American communities connected to the property, their lifeways and beliefs, and the impacts of the process of colonialism to the present day.

In the process of this independent research, I encountered numerous examples of Indigenous Americans brought to Devon (often through violent kidnap) from the waterways of the homelands including Abenaki men Nahanedo, Amoret, Skicowares, Maneddo, and Assacomoit, Nausett man Epenow, a man named only as ‘Ralegh’ likely from Central or South America, and another named John Provost, or John of Trinidad. All these men, and their broader communities, were connected to the property and some, I could prove had even lived for a time in said space as part of the household.

My research culminated in the writing of an extensive academic report on the Indigenous and First Nations connections to Devon National Trust spaces. This in turn was shared by me at a knowledge exchange event bringing together academics and heritage professionals from beyond the National Trust interested in bettering such interpretation in UK heritage spaces. It will also be developed into fresh written, and in-person spoken interpretation at property levels.

My time with the project allowed me the experience of collaborative research in a supportive environment. From writing blog posts and newsletters to talking with property curators about future avenues for interpretation the placement also allowed the experience of multiple modes of public dissemination of research in the heritage industry.

 Finally, in working with the project I was allowed to work through and continue the practice of the questions of ethics with regards to Indigenous and First Nations histories, the importance of language, and the significance of ‘doing’ these histories well in the face of centuries of mythologisation. It was a placement that will continue to have an impact upon me and my ongoing work for years to come.