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GUEST POST: Sir? Do you have anything on ‘Ethnocentrism’?

GUEST POST: Sir? Do you have anything on ‘Ethnocentrism’?

Sir? Do you have anything on ‘Ethnocentrism’?
Dr Stanley Griffin (right) with students visiting the UWI Museum. Full disclosure: These were not the Carib Civ students! We didn’t catch him on camera that time.
by Dr Stanley H Griffin, UWI Archives
The privilege was mine to oversee the UWI Museum during the recent absence of the Curator. One of the ‘duties assigned’ was to look out for and guide undergraduate students taking the Caribbean Civilization aka Carib Civ Foundation Course. Their assignment was to find and take a photograph with an artefact that represents or illustrates one of several theoretical concepts used to explain the socio-cultural experience of Caribbean life.
So armed with their phones, and theories, they came to the Museum, and ask they did!  I found touring these students very interesting for several reasons.
1. None of the items on display were created, maintained, used, or donated to the Museum because they fit some theoretical construct. From the Royal Charter, with the Queen’s Signet; to Chapel Vases from Lord Hailes–Governor General, West Indies; to matriculation and Chancellor’s gowns, and dishes from the various halls, the artefacts represent particular activities of institutional life and personal perspectives. The Royal Charter, for example, was the document needed to operate as an institution of teaching, learning and research. The Chapel Vases were to be used to brighten the decor of the Chapel for worship. Gowns added formality to ceremonies, dinners, meetings  and even classes. The various glasses, tea cups and tea pots were for the refreshment of students. However, they were all designed within a time period and social context that in some ways illustrated the various theories the students were now interrogating.
2.  All of the items on display are markers of particular events and personalities that have shaped the UWI into the institution it is today. Even though these artefacts are signifiers of facts, meaning they are proof that these persons existed and events happened, they are also the ‘stuff of stories’. There are the details in perspectives and will have differing meanings to the wide variety of roles  and persons in the university community. These stories are as priceless as the materials themselves. Imagine the relief of administrators when the official Royal Charter arrived after the ‘drowning’ of the 1st Charter. Surely the chapel decor committee was pleased about the gift of new vases, with its clear instructional sketches on how to use them. The crockery certainly added ‘umph’ to hall rivalry and prestige to hall events.  These artefacts certainly helped to form the student and work life of Mona Campus.
3. All these items, however, fit the theoretical constructs that certainly explain life in the Caribbean. These artefacts illustrate the ‘ethnocentrism’ of colonial influence on university governance and student life. These artefacts are poignant markers of our past, with its racism, class-ism, and cultural subjugation. All this is happening on the grounds of the former sugar plantation, where the enslaved experienced the racism, class-ism, and cultural subjugation, that were part of plantation life. At the same time, these artefacts are testament to the quest of rising above and beyond these theoretical norms and experiences, the crafting of an institution, personalities and a legacy of excellence that has propelled students onto the world stage. Looking back, from the vantage point of 70 years on, there is much to see and show our new undergrads how far we as a Caribbean society and university have overcome and developed. There is still much ground to cover, but we must still recognise and celebrate how far we’ve come.

The Caribbean Civilisation course provides non-Humanities and Education faculty students the opportunity to acknowledge and reflect on Caribbean history and culture.Given that the students taking this course are not presumed to have an arts background (or worse: interest!), they often bring unexpected perspectives that can spark really interesting discussions on interpretations of theory and fact. Visits to the Museum, among their other assignments, allow these students to tangibly link theory to reality and question their current and future place in our Society.  This is indeed the purpose of the Museum (as well as Archives–since I actually work in one.): We place the past in context, and offer the visitor an opportunity to interpret and challenge their perceptions in order to better their understanding.
So in responding to that popular title question, “Yes, everything inside here represents Ethnocentrism – in some way!”  Now, let’s hope they all got A’s for their projects.
Dr Stanley Griffin is Assistant Archivist and Officer-in-Charge at the University Archives. For another story on our Carib Civ engagement, this one a 2017 flashback, check out:


  • Guest Post
  • Making Connections
  • Special Focus
  • Visitors - Groups
  • Caribbean Civilisation
  • Dr Stanley Griffin
  • The University of the West Indies
  • UWI Archives
  • UWI Museum


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