Interpreting Slavery and Freedom in New England: A 2-day workshop 2019 | Providence, RI
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03/25/2019 9:00 AM

Interpreting Slavery and Freedom in New England: A 2-day workshop 2019

by The Center for Reconciliation


Back by popular demand! 

Challenged by your site's historical connections to slavery? Looking for strategies and resources on speaking to the public about complicated topics like race in America? Unsure about what to do with documents, artifacts or grave sites related to your community's enslaved or early free populations of color? Wrestling with how to get your board to approve race-related programming or recruit interpreters of color? This March the Center for Reconciliation will host its second annual two-day workshop to help New England's museum community work through the continuing challenges that interpreting slavery and freedom to the public can present.

This year's workshop will include "unconference" sessions where you can get help with your biggest questions or most challenging objects from local historians and curators. Let's work through the obstacles and blindspots together.

This two-day conference will provide participants with opportunities to:

  • Learn New England's African and Indigenous/Native American history from local experts

  • Discuss new and refined interpretation strategies that can be used for historical narratives, works of art and historical objects

  • Learn about the development of racial ideologies in America and how that impacts the work of front-line interpreters and museums as a whole today

  • Gain or refine race dialogue strategies with colleagues from around New England

  • Draft and practice leading a brief tour or program on the racial history of your site. Receive real-time feedback on your draft

  • Receive immediate feedback on your ideas or current projects from local experts and new colleagues during the unconference

  • Discover local resources including interpreters, trainers, scholars, and books to help you or your organization progress in your work interpreting the racial history of New England.

Schedule: 9am - 4pm, March 25-26th. Doors open at 8:45 am. Morning sessions will focus on New England's history of African and Indigenous slavery, the struggles and triumphs of freedom, an exploration of relevant racial terminology, and strategies for leading sensitive and nuanced tours and dialogues with the public on slavery and race in New England. Afternoon sessions will include research strategies, local resources, "unconference" sessions, tours and other activities. Please check back for more details.

Unconference sessions: An unconference is an informal meeting of individuals interested in talking with and learning from each other on the same topic. For a fuller explanation please click HERE. This is your opportunity to discuss your most challenging visitor comments, problematic objects, confusing terminology, thorny questions, "Aha" moments, big discoveries and fresh research, in a welcoming space and with museum professionals and historians from around New England. An email will be sent out to all registered attendees the weeks before the workshop with a link and directions for proposing an unconference session.


  • Elon Cook Lee: Program director and curator at the Center for Reconciliation, consultant on interpreting slavery and race for historic sites around the country, lecturer on slavery, race and public memory at the Rhode Island School of Design and a National Association for Interpretation certified interpretive guide trainer (CIGT)
  • Cheyney Mcknight: Living Historian of enslaved and free Black life, consultant and host of the Not Your Momma's History Youtube Channel  
  • Jason Mancini: Executive Director of Connecticut Humanities, former Executive Director of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center and co-founder of Akomawt Educational Initiative

Healthy box lunch option available below. 

Location: The workshops will be hosted inside the historic Cathedral of St. John and other sites in walking distance from the Cathedral in Providence, Rhode Island. The Cathedral is located on North Main street, a 7-minute walk from the Providence Amtrack Station. There are also opportunities for afternoon field trips to local institutions that are currently hosting exhibitions on slavery.

Scholarships: The Phillis, Rose & Fanny Memorial Scholarship -  Three full scholarships are available for museum or historic site staff, independent tour guides or students who identify as a member of the African diaspora, or Indigenous/American Indian/Native American. Please write a brief essay, 250 words or less, describing how attending this conference will help your career as you interpret the narratives of enslaved or free people of color. Scholarships will be awarded competitively. Essays due by March 20 th, 2019.

Interpreter Ally Fund and Scholarship: Thanks to the generous support of our museum world colleagues we are excited to offer one more full scholarships to attend the workshop. Please keep in mind that these scholarships are for individuals who are unable to receive institutional funding or cannot afford to pay out of pocket. To apply please use this form  

Volunteer Discount: the Center for Reconciliation will need volunteers to assist with social media (ie. live Tweeting and updating Facebook), and tech (setting up projectors, using Mac laptops, troubleshooting microphones, etc). Selected volunteers will receive discounted admission to the conference. Please email with a brief description of your experience and use subject heading - "Tech Volunteer". 

Call for Proposals: The host committee invites proposals that address any of the topics below. Proposal deadline is February 20th. Please submit proposals to or by email to with the subject: Proposal Interpreting Slavery. Accepted panelists will receive half-off admission to the workshop. Possible topics:

  • Creating or leading programs on slavery or local racial narratives for kids and teens.
  • Exhibiting artifacts related to slavery, the slave trade and indigenous life
  • Strategies for partnering with descendants, local communities, neighbors/property owners, other institutions or across racial lines
  • Attracting new audiences
  • Other related topics: Is there a topic we are missing that would help museums, historic houses or independent tour guides improve the way they engage New England's history of slavery and/or Black and Indigenous narratives?

A Note on Racial Reconciliation in Museums: Please note that the organizers of this workshop recognize that all museums and historic sites in the United States of America exist in a world that has been deeply marred by not only the history but the legacy of slavery. That includes sites that have never addressed slavery or race before. The pain of our nation's past and present play out in difficult interactions between colleagues, lack of opportunities or support for individuals or groups because of systemic discrimination against their identities, charged incidents with visitors unprepared or unwilling to explore the narratives of people of color, and discomfort or avoidance of narratives that challenge Euro and cisgendered male-centric worldviews, among others. Through recognition of these challenges, we actively seek to help create a better more just museum world. A world in which individuals are paid, hired, promoted and supported fairly for their physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional work regardless of their identities or assumed identities. A world that reconciles our nation's history with the reality of race and racism today. We also recognize that for a variety of reasons including up to at least 400 years of exclusion from career-advancing opportunities, or the ability to build inter-generational wealth, some members of our community are unable to pay at the same rate as others. We welcome everyone to join us in the work of building, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, a Beloved Museum Community. If there is a barrier in the way of your participation, let us know how we can help remove it. If you are privileged enough to help support and uplift other members of our community, please consider making a donation to the Interpreter Ally Fund so that we can ensure that this workshop is fair and open to all. 

Recommended local hotels:  

Date and Time

03/25/2019 9:00 AM - 03/26/2019 4:00 PM EDT


St. John's Cathedral
271 North Main Street
Providence, RI 02903

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The Center for Reconciliation

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The Center for Reconciliation (CFR), a non-profit organization, confronts the history and legacies of slavery and the slave trade in order to build respectful and equitable relationships across racial lines. We seek to change hearts and minds through collaboration focused on learning, healing, and justice.

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