The Mystic Seaport Museum's newest curator is dedicated to telling stories that have been excluded and often left behind.
“Traditionally, history has been told through a single lens and everyone has heard that saying 'history is told by the victors.' What we are doing here is really broadening that lens," said Akeia de Barros Gomes, Ph.D. "Telling the stories of mariners of color, of Indigenous mariners, Indigenous communities.”
As senior curator of maritime social histories, de Barros Gomes said she will put together exhibitions, publications, programming, and educational projects based on a people-centered history. According to the museum, de Barros Gomes will work on projects of race, Indigenous histories, ethnicity, and diversity in New England’s maritime story.
The new role, supported by a $4.9 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is part of a larger effort at the museum to explore historical injustices in maritime history and to also explain how African American and Indigenous people contributed significantly to maritime history.
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“She is a key part of an institution-wide reframing of the traditional narratives around the American maritime experience as it relates to African, African-American, and Indigenous peoples," said Peter Armstrong, president of Mystic Seaport Museum, in a press release. "We are deeply grateful to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, whose support made this position possible.”
De Barros Gomes has a background in anthropology and archaeology. She said that a huge part of her new job will be interacting with the local community.
“So it’s not my perspective on this history. It’s really the community perspective and making sure the stories are being told the way they should have been told all along," de Barros Gomes said.
Connecticut In Color
Maritime history is complex, which makes it an interesting platform to do this kind of work, according to de Barros Gomes,
"You can talk about things like dispossession -- that land was taken away from indigenous people -- and that is part of the maritime story. You can talk about racialized slavery. The slavery of Africans, the slavery of Indigenous North Americans can be told through a maritime lens," she said. "But the other side of that is maritime industries provided amazing opportunities for men from African, native communities.”
Her first project at the museum is called "The Sea Connects Us". The exhibit includes panels that are spread across the museum. The panels are designed to highlight the diversity of the maritime story in New England. Each panel features an often untold piece of history, highlighting the stories of African American and Indigenous mariners.
“All of these stories are a really important part of maritime history and we are just happy that we are able to bring them to life and put a face on them," said de Barros Gomes. “We are absolutely going to continue down this path. This is the beginning.”
To learn more about de Barros Gomes, click here.