Dr Shahmima Akhtar
I am broadly a historian of race, migration and empire. I teach on the history of world’s fairs in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Britain and the United States, with a particular focus on Ireland. I am interested in constructions of whiteness, the intersections between display, and the visual in identity making. Taking a cultural approach to the study of history, I map modes of knowledge production as it relates to marginalised communities within the British Empire.
I am particularly interested in visual forms of identity production and the ways in which the realm of display and culture intersect or else sustain modes of being, whether politically, socially or culturally. In my research, I have taken case studies of Ireland’s display in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Britain and the United States, to interrogate what, and how visions of Irishness were engendered in the fairground. Questions I ask include: How does this fictive Ireland relate to Irish politics in the contemporary period? Who was curating these versions of Irishness? And how were these displays received? At the heart of these questions is a keen interests in the methods by and through which selfhood is imagined in both the popular and personal sphere. What specific historical notions of the Irish were held? And how were these engaged with? Taking into account the contested forms of knowledge production, I consider the multi-layered dimensions to being gendered, raced and classed.
I am most proud of a research placement I did with the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, where I used the Museum’s existing collections together with accession records and my own archival research to create a bank of resources for BMAG’s redevelopment over the next few years, in particular for a new display on ‘Birmingham and the British Empire’ as part of their decolonising initiative. Museums are interesting spaces as they directly visualise stories, histories and legacies of groups and individuals within communities. It puts into practice my theoretical research.
Naturally, I have been involved in various projects with museums, whether speaking at the Being Human Festival in London and Liverpool. The latter involved a talk on ‘Displaying Humans: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives’ at the International Slavery Museum. I have also spoken on the contemporary importance of teaching and learning about the British Empire as part of a Human Rights Festival Week held at Kingston University. As well as taking part in a panel discussion at the British Foreign Policy Institute on 'Rethinking the British Empire and its Legacy Today’.
Email - Shahmima.firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter - @shahmima_akhtar