Over three days, we worked at the archeological site of the Berkeley castle. The tour of the castle was very interesting as the Berkeley family has history that reaches all the way back to the times of the Normans (11th century AD). Members of their family had colonized America, slightly north of the area that became the Jamestown colony. They also inspired works such as Downton Abbey- one of my favorite shows. Members of the family still live in the castle that now belongs to the National Heritage sites. One of the reasons for this is the expensive maintenance of the house and grounds. The property itself is worth a few million pounds, but the artwork within ranges from 5 to 20 million pounds per piece, with few exceptions. So, this family has a rich history and rich collection of art that I would definitely pay to learn about and admire.
The dig, however, was far more intense. We would work for two hours in the morning, take a 30 minute break, work a few more hours, have lunch until 2, then work until 4:30 or 5pm when the buses would arrive to return us to the University. It did feel as though we were thrown into the trenches because they treated us like any archeology student from Uni that has been studying how to properly excavate for months. Since we had no idea what we were doing, we quickly made friends with our students leaders who also had varying levels of knowledge on the subject of archeology. Needless to say, this was a workout and learning experience for everyone. In between mattoching the dirt, cleaning the debris, shoveling rocks, and finding animals bones from the pre-Roman era (super cool by the way), we were teaching each other types of English and American slang, food, and shows.
I think the best part of this experience was making friends with the Uni students and being able to hang out with them at the pub or their flats after the three-day exercise. Natalie and I were paired with Julia who we cleverly named "trench mom". She was actually the same age as us because we were all freshmen, but she taught us a ton of techniques to excavate and identify things properly. She is also one of the sweetest people I've ever met. She let Natalie and I try on and borrow one of her dresses for our Ball at the end of the week. She said we deserved to look and feel pretty, and have fun. So Julia is great and I will most likely come back to Bristol and visit her later this year.
The second best part of this was finding actual remains of an animal from over 1000 years ago!! Although I do wish the length of the dig was shorter, it was definitely an experience I would not have had in outside of this program and something I'll never forget.
We went to Cardiff on our third weekend in Bristol. By this time, we felt pretty confident in our ability to catch the right buses to get to Temple Meads and take the correct train to Cardiff. Four of the five who went bought our tickets online so picking them up at the queue was fairly easy. On the train, there was a bachelorette party which was fun to see; and their party was only one of three that we saw during our little excursion. This must be because the clubs and pubs in Cardiff are cheaper than those in major cities like Bristol, London, Liverpool, etc.
The architecture was similar to that of Bristol- medieval mixed with Victorian styles. There was a stark contrast between the buildings and layout of Bath and Cardiff. One reason could be that the city planners were Welsh and the distinct history of that region. Personally, I liked Bath more, but the history of Cardiff was also intriguing.
When we toured Cardiff Castle, we walked through the WWII bunkers within the castle walls originally used as lookout spots in the Medieval period. The bunker were creepy because it reminded me of the horrid past and the fear that families and children must've felt at the threat of air raids, but also our possible bleak future with the threat of nuclear war. I hope to have a family of my own one day, and I can't imagine living in those conditions for months at a time. Throughout the ten minute walk in the bunkers, I was reminded of the purpose of Fulbright and similar scholarship programs- create bridges between people from all over the world through projects that promote peace and understanding. I hope that my project will be able to fulfill its intended purpose of helping U.S. students understand and learn from the modern day projects and history of the U.K.
Our philosophy lecture was based on this question. The answer seems obvious, right? Slavery is bad because humans shouldn't treat humans like anything less than human. And that statement alone, raises even more questions like, "what does it mean to be human?".
Throughout this program, we were trying to imagine inhumane atrocities and their socioeconomic consequences. However, you cannot understand the culture as an agent himself would. Philosophy enables people like me to step outside of the 21st century paradigm and grasp how people in the 16th and 17th centuries would have answered these fundamental questions. This type of insight is necessary for us to comprehend the primary documents and their purpose at the time.
Even though this blog post is very short, our discussion in lecture could have lasted for four hours or more because we were incited to critically think and respond to questions that most people, including myself, dismiss as obvious.
The answer is yes! But not everyone will agree with you- even on issues that you think have blatantly obvious rights and wrongs; this includes the discussion of slavery in the 21st century.
The first experience I've had with someone who wants to forget about the slave trade was at the Clifton Rocks Railway tour. One of our tour guides said that she doesn't think slavery should be a topic of discussion because it's in the past so people should forget about it. Ironically, she has studied the history of the Railway for 40 years and knows a breath-taking amount of stories of people who used the railway as a shelter during WWII. She also used to work for the University of Bristol, which seems very liberal overall. So I asked her why she's so fascinated with only certain parts of the history of this beautiful city when the money and people displaced by slavery act as the foundation for the Railway and supplement the stories that she's telling us now. Why must one narrative be remembered and another not? In summary, she said she's tired of people thinking Bristol was an awful place when slavery happened everywhere and still happens today. She also said that "someone had to work the sugar plantations" which definitely made me upset because that sounded like an excuse for dehumanizing a race of people for generations. However, her response supported my idea that people appreciate the history in which their ancestors or ethnic group were heroes or, sometimes, victims- but rarely when their people are "villains".
To her first comment, I can understand why no one would want to remember slavery if they're the malefactor of the narrative. But this is what she, and many others, fail to understand: remembering the Triangular slave trade and its legacy is not to vindicate one race and appease another, but to prevent industrial globalization from thriving off the backs of exploited, dehumanized people.
On the last day of the dig, we went to the Stoke Bishop Ball. A Ball in the U.K. basically translates to Prom. It was one of the most fun and memorable nights I had in Bristol because the views from Wills Hall were spectacular, the students were hilarious to watch, and the silent disco was better than any homecoming or prom I have ever attended. Wills Hall is one of the oldest residential buildings in Stoke Bishop, and definitely the prettiest. It has that Hogwarts ambiance to it and reminds me of Georgian architecture.
The silent disco is where every students gets a head set to wear with three available channels. You can adjust the volume or change the channel on your headset at any time without affecting anyone else. So if you take your headset off, you will see 100-200 students dancing, yelling, or jumping to absolutely nothing and are completely off beat with each other. This sounds like chaos but it was so fun because if you like hip hop but your best friend loves EDM, you guys can stand right next to each other and dance and sing to your respective songs at the same time. Needless to say, I miss silent disco and I hope I can convince my student government to host a silent disco ball.
Tips for Clothing:
I can only give my personal opinion for the girls here. If you wear a prom dress in which you're comfortable gallivanting outside, then you'll be set. So long trains are not a good idea, especially because it rains willy nilly in the U.K. If you plan to beat your face (doing full face makeup with contours, highlights, etc.), wear waterproof makeup. Six inch heels are cute and I even brought a pair, but I never wore them because the hills in the city and residential areas are no joke. You will walk everywhere, including to the ball. So whatever heels you think are cute and comfortable should work. I wore silver wedges that I broke in a few years ago.
Even if you don't like balls or large dances, there's something for everyone.
This is the first reflection I'm writing about being in Bristol since we've been here, and I can honestly say I've learned so much. The tour day was exhausting. We walked 6.4 miles and I walked even further to Cabot circus to get a fresh mango smoothie (that's another story). But the first day of lecture was by far the best day since we've been here. In many ways, better than the bus tour and greasy fish and chips (fries) we had during our first 24 hours in the city.
We finally met Cassie, Madge, Mark, and Gary. It felt weird to call them by their first names when three of them are doctors and extremely knowledgeable historians. Contrary to the states, formally addressing people in authority, especially professors, in the U.K. is not as important. But don't let the informality here fool you, because professors are not friends as some people generalize. They are still teachers who demand critical thinking and punctuality- I repeat punctuality.
On another note, I'd like to talk about Madge. She is amazing! Everything she said surprised me, shocked me, and made me realize how much of the city was involved in the slave trade and the different responses to acknowledging this fact. I came to the U.K. and Bristol believing that the majority of people here were ready and willing to say slavery existed, our cities grew exponentially from its profits, and our racial tensions are almost non-existent. By day 3, I learned my original assumption was all wrong. The US and U.K. are far more similar than I expected, along with the attitudes towards slavery. Even the treatment of black people after the trade was abolished and slaves were "emancipated" was similar in both countries. Only the masters received recompense for "losing property" and black people had to continue working as servants or sharecroppers to make poverty level wages. Also, the prevalence of slaves and servants in Bristol was far different from that of the Americas. Thus, their history and current discussions are also somewhat different from the history and talks about reconciling the past in the U.S.
Through it all, there is something unique here in this program and the city: as students, we can openly discuss a harsh topic, bring pieces of this relevant issue back to our respective communities/universities, and preserve the culture which the slave trade left behind, all while living and studying across the Atlantic with the Fulbright summer institute in Bristol.