Our College’s new Heritage and Inclusion programme aims to change the way we think, talk and act regarding our own heritage. Our Deputy Head of Heritage, Ross McGregor explains this in the latest edition of our membership magazine VOICE. A copy of this is below and College Members can read the full magazine by logging in.
This year the Heritage team launches a new monthly series of events titled ‘Reframed – Conversations about Heritage and Inclusion’. The aim of these events is to reveal our heritage collections in new ways – reframing our heritage to address issues of equality, diversity and inclusion. The events will feature members of the Heritage team talking about objects from our collections or people from the College’s history, some familiar and others less so. We’ll also have special guests to join us in these conversations.
Why are we reframing our heritage?
Inequalities exist in every aspect of society, in every period of history. Institutions are often built on foundations of inequalities and exclusion, and they play a role in the structural inequalities of society. While we celebrate the College’s great history, we also accept that it is an organisation founded on white, male privilege. Prestigious institutions often cultivate exclusion through the establishment of their identity and their sense of authority. Heritage has a complex role to play in this. Old institutions have often used their heritage to create prestige and exclusivity as part of their identity, and as part of their brand. The College has been doing this since its very early days in the 1600s when it began to use its 1599 Royal Charter to distinguish, promote and protect itself. In the Victorian period, the idea of prestige was amplified further by the value placed on antiquity.
The College’s Heritage and Inclusion programme aims to address the inequalities inherent in its history by changing the way we think, talk and act regarding our heritage. The Reframed series of events is a start in this process.
What will the events involve?
Our conversations about heritage and inclusion will help us change the way we communicate our heritage, interpret it, and engage people with it. In other words, it will change our heritage practice. We are approaching the events as a starting point in this conversation. We will pose questions, and we certainly don’t know all of the answers!
The Heritage team will be joined by special guests with an interest or expertise in the themes. As always, we take an open and collaborative approach to our heritage and collections. This helps open up the questions and stories, engaging with different viewpoints outside of the College. The first two events challenge perceptions of two of the most celebrated figures in the College’s history – Joseph Lister and David Livingstone. While Lister’s contribution to medical science will always be celebrated, we want to have a conversation about a little-known feature of his career. In the 1870s he was outspoken about women’s access to surgical education, refusing to accept women in his classes. This was at a time when the profession was slowly beginning to open up to female practitioners.
For our conversation about David Livingstone and the white saviour complex in medical heritage, we will be joined by Zandra Yeaman, activist and campaigner with the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER) and currently Curator of Discomfort at the Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow. Zandra will discuss how heritage organisations can address the racism that is embedded within society, collections, and knowledge.
Our conversations about heritage and inclusion will often be difficult and challenging, but they will also begin a process of change. The College’s heritage, and how people have interacted with it, has evolved over the centuries, but it has never addressed the inequalities that are part of our history. We are having these conversations as public events so that people can join us and be part of that process of change.
Places on events can be booked through our website.