It is official now and the cat can go out of the bag. It had been signed and sealed way back in April, 2020. Given the current times we find ourselves in, I consider it a rare privilege and God’s blessing to delightfully share this promotion news with you. From today 1 July, 2020 I am officially an Assistant Professor (tenure track) in Cultural Geography at Wageningen University and Research, the Netherlands. The unfolding global events in the past weeks makes it partly serendipitous and partly unsettling in terms of the focus of my research programme.
Now is the time to consolidate and focus on my primary interest as I build expertise and a research niche. It is going to be a challenge to stay in one or two lanes given how easily I can get distracted with new ideas that keeps driving me into new research topic areas. But I believe my foundation is solid and wide enough to commit myself to building an identifiable research programme.
For this tenure track journey therefore, I am developing a primary research programme on the geographies of slavery heritage tourism and a secondary one focusing on sustainable tourism development policy and planning.
In my primary research programme, I am developing the concept of the embodied absence of the past in the context of slavery heritage tourism. I do this by innovatively combining insights from cultural geography, tourism studies and heritage studies. The embodied absence of the past in it’s basic form refer to the physical presence but narrative absence of the shared history and role of people of Africa descent in
European societies. In particular, I focus on investigating the transformative
potential of the practices and performances of (slavery) heritage tourism in opening up new narratives about slavery’s past and present. I am starting this new research programme with a project that focuses on a comparative study of slavery-related heritage tourism spaces in the Ghana, Suriname and the Netherlands triangle. This is really going back to my research roots and sticking to a topic dear to me. This project builds on my first MSc thesis from 2010, two PhD research proposals from 2011 and 2012 that didn’t get funded and my finally funded PhD thesis.
As I presented to my BAC promotion interview panel back in April, in developing the above research programme, my research vision is founded on 4 principles: 1) transdisciplinary, 2) methodological innovation, 3) societal relevance and, 4) kind science.
Given my love for teaching, being an Assistant Professor will hopefully give me space to further develop my teaching which is based on 4 education vision principles: 1) open, engaged and interactive, 2) current and relevant, 3) recognising diversity and, 4) providing effective feedforward and feedback. All these principles need unpacking and I aim to blog about these in the future one after the other to explain in details what I mean with these.
I am excited about what lies up ahead notwithstanding the known knowns and the many known unknowns in terms of research funding, collaborations, PhD recruitment and getting this research programme up and running. The plan is to gradually expand and scale up the research programme to the study of the practices and performances of/in slavery heritage tourism spaces through a comparative study of selected Africa, American/Caribbean and European countries (France, Spain, Portugal and UK) with a shared history and heritage of slavery. Ultimately, by exploring the issue of slavery heritage tourism my aim is to show how such practices and performances can be essential for promoting increased cultural understanding and harmonious social living in the increasingly multicultural societies at risk of polarisation – see recent events on #blacklivesmatter #blm.
There is an urgent need to address rising racism, discrimination and intolerance and I want my research to be able to provide insights about sensitive places of remembrance, and the cultural value of (slavery) heritage in stimulating public engagement and in understanding and coming to terms with the past. I will highlight the lived experiences of visitors to slavery-heritage tourism sites, the tensions in these places and the transformative potential of such touristic visitations. I believe the more we tell the stories of the past, the more awareness we generate, the more united we become and the better we can tackle present challenges such as polarisation, racism and discrimination.
I know it aint gonna be easy but I know that God’s grace and love will abound even more. For now, I am trying to clear up outstanding research projects in order to start the next academic year with a ‘clean’ plate to fully focus on getting this research programme up and running. I am open to collaboration in this area and look forward to your support and encouragement.
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