Americas and Oceania Collections blog

Exploring the Library’s collections from the Americas and Oceania

05 March 2019

The Power of History - Honouring Andrea Levy

As lead curator of the BL’s recent exhibition Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land  I had the great honour to meet and work with Andrea Levy. It is with great pain and heavy sorrow that I write this blog in the wake of her death. The loss of Andrea Levy from the world has left a deep wound.

Our first meeting involved a passionate conversation about the importance of history, the need to uncover the stories of everyday people’s lives, and to re construct the ties between cultures and places that have been severed through time. We talked in particular about Caribbean history, and her research into her own family history as well as the process of writing Small Island and Long Song.

A black and white illustration with the caption 'An interior view of a Jamaica House of Correction'

Narrative of Events Since the First of August 1834, (London: 1838) Shelfmark: Tr 148 (k)

I was deeply moved by the exchange. We both communed about the fact that our collective ability to (re)confront and (re)construct the histories of colonialism, slavery, and struggles for freedom was vital to changing our present world for the better. We discussed the urgent need for those of us who work in the cultural and heritage sector to cultivate new ways of understanding the world, and ourselves. And I felt we both understood our collaboration on the ‘Windrush’ exhibition as part of this work.

As ever, Gary Younge puts it eloquently in his Guardian piece:

“It always felt to me as though Andrea became more driven the closer she came to the end. Keen to broaden the British historical gaze beyond its borders, particularly to the Caribbean, she became increasingly frustrated with the limited and limiting imaginations of media gatekeepers when it came to the Caribbean and slavery. Resolving to use the currency she had now gained to expand our historical literacy, she pushed at every meeting and every level for a fuller, more rounded, more inclusive version of our national story.”

A colour image showing a Map of the West-Indies, or the Islands of America in the North Sea, together with the adjacent Dominions

 'A new Map of the West-Indies, or the Islands of America in the North Sea, together with the adjacent Dominions,’ (London: 1740) Shelfmark: K.TOP.123.7

Andrea Levy ‘s legacy is in many ways  a challenge to us all to take on the necessary, at times painful, and beautiful work of creating a more just world by creatively confronting and transforming history. - E.C.