USW history students investigate RCT memorials for Black Lives Matter project

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Our history students have played leading roles in the Black Lives Matter project, ‘History on the Edge’. The students had to investigate all memorials in Rhondda Cynon Taff upon a request received by the Welsh Government. Darren Macey, a Lecturer in History, led the project.

Students Geraint Lewis and Abbie King researched the Cynon Valley, Ellis Thomas and Callum White worked on the Taff Ely area, and lecturer Darren Macey focused on the Rhondda Valley.

Here’s what they had to say about their involvement in this fantastic project, where they learned a great deal about the local area to the University’s Pontypridd Campus.

What is ‘History on the Edge’?

Ellis: ‘History on the Edge’, is the title given to this Black Lives Matter project, and for a good reason. It tackles an area of Welsh history that’s been largely unexplored.

Geraint: It explores memorialisation in Rhondda Cynon Taff (RCT). For the project, we investigated all memorials in the borough to assess if they prove problematic in terms of Black Lives Matter. RCT council, along with other local authorities in Wales, were asked by the Welsh Government to carry out the investigations.

Callum: This project was a once in a lifetime opportunity. As historians, most of us would like to have an impact on the way history is perceived. As a result of our work, a catalogue was produced of all memorials and statues in the borough.”

Why is this Black Lives Matter project so important?

Ellis: With recent events highlighting racial injustices, and questions surrounding many figures memorialised in public spaces, its important past injustices are acknowledged and understood as being part of Welsh history.

Abbie: How we view history now is different from how we viewed it in the past. The people memorialised were done so because of where we were then. As history has moved on, the people we memorialised need to be reconsidered.

Callum: Black Lives Matter will hopefully drive equality between all ethnic groups of the human race. This project will be only one of the thousands needed; to achieve these aims.

What did you learn from your findings?

Geraint: Before starting the project, we believed the history of the development of the South Wales Valleys and coal fields would rule out large extents of the slave trade. Mostly, this was the case. However, we did find through families, such as the Crawshay family, that they had links to the shipping industry that transported slaves. This was especially interesting to us at the University, because of the building carrying that name.

What were your biggest challenges, working on the project?

Geraint: The biggest challenge I found, on the project, was finding the memorials. Many don’t exist on maps or websites so, I had to locate them through local knowledge, and trawling through endless pages of online newspapers. The closure of local libraries, due to the pandemic also added to the difficulties.

Ellis: We overcame this challenge by undertaking deeper research online and using methods considered more unconventional.

What skills did you develop and how?

Abbie: I developed my analytical skills through researching the memorials, deconstructing the information into smaller chunks, making sure it was relevant to the project, organised the information gathered and communicated my findings to my teammate and then to the wider group.

Geraint: Through the project, I've enhanced my precise and dedicated research abilities. Many clues were not easy to find to be able to identify some of the names on the memorials. Through sheer determination and the need to complete the task quickly, we overcome any problems.

What did you enjoy most through your involvement?

Callum: I enjoyed the whole process of History on the Edge. It was for a great cause, and it allowed me to hone my historical skills and to affect how some individuals are commemorated.

Geraint: I’ve always had an interest in my local area and its history. So, this project gave focus to my passion. Finding out about local people who made a real difference in the local community and beyond, has been great. It’s been encouraging to know there were no major issues in terms of Black Lives Matter.