From Local to Global will forge links with researchers and conservationists across the UK, and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The project, which has received £130,000 in funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, will use as its focal point the Harrison Collection, a part of the Museums Trust’s collections named after Colonel James Harrison (1857-1923) of Brandesburton Hall, East Yorkshire.
Harrison undertook expeditions around the world to hunt for sport and animal trophies, and, in 1904, brought back six indigenous people of the Ituri Forest in what was then known as the Belgian Congo (people who would have been described as ‘pygmies’) who he toured around the country in public exhibitions including at the London Hippodrome and the House of Commons.
The Harrison Collection of artefacts collected by or belonging to Colonel Harrison includes taxidermied animals, diaries, gramophone discs and photographs, creating a comprehensive record of our colonial past.
It will form the start point for activities including developing a network of ‘citizen researchers’ recruited from local community groups including the Museums Trust’s own volunteers, with support from Scarborough Library and Scarborough Conservation Volunteers, to research the collection and connect with environmental experts, activists and academics both here and in the Republic to research Harrison, colonialism, and wider environmental issues.
The project also aims to develop a campaign to encourage environmental action and advocacy, and a schools learning programme for primary, secondary and sixth form students.
It will include a year-long programme of films, talks, artist commissions and a website to attract wide and diverse audiences, culminating in an exhibition at Scarborough Art Gallery next autumn which will draw on the community-led research and provide a range of alternative viewpoints.
The project will be overseen by East Yorkshire-based Gifty Burrows, an experienced inclusive practitioner whose led the Heritage Lottery-funded African Stories in Hull and East Yorkshire, which explored the stories of local people of African descent, and From Local to Global will build on that work.
Gifty said: "The historical footprint left to Scarborough through this collection gives an insight into 20th century colonial attitudes and values attached to Africa, its people, its culture and its natural resources. It is hoped that by exploring Harrison's expeditions to the Ituri Forest in particular, we are better able to rebalance the misunderstandings that echo through to this day.
“The project’s design brings together many complex themes but with strands that are recognisable as contemporary issues such as the loss of species, our changing environment and the hidden aspect of forced labour in ways that link Yorkshire to the wider world.”
Scarborough Museums Trust Curator Dorcas Taylor said: "This project is not only important to Scarborough Museums Trust, but to our local communities and to the people who are still living with the impacts of our colonial past.
"We want to make visible a part of Yorkshire’s history that says much about previously-held attitudes towards people and places that experienced colonial rule and think about what lessons can be learned.
"We also want to use this project as a constructive platform to share histories and voices from the Democratic Republic of Congo to help communities organise together to respond to environmental challenges that ultimately affect all of us.”
Andrew Clay, chief executive of Scarborough Museums Trust said: “This project is really meaningful to us as it gives us the chance to sensitively reappraise a collection that has been hidden from view for a number of years.
"Visitors will be able to see the Harrison Collection and critically examine how Africa has been represented in ways that have not yet been addressed. We would like to thank the National Lottery Heritage Fund and National Lottery players for providing the funding to help us with this journey. Without this, we would not be able to undertake such an ambitious and vital project.”
Dorcas said: “We hope this project will inspire people in Scarborough or across Yorkshire to get involved in researching historic links with the Democratic Republic of Congo or exploring connections between our natural environment and that of the Republic today. This project opens up so many ways to learn more about our shared histories and create present and future local and global collaborations.”