More Rum than Sugar

International research project by the Flensburg Maritime Museum on the colonial legacy of Flensburg

The colonial trade with the Danish West Indies in the 18th and 19th century is one of the most outstanding chapters in the history of Flensburg and of the collections and exhibitions of the Flensburg Maritime Museum in northern Germany. The trade with sugar and rum transformed Flensburg into one of the foremost important cities in the Whole-State of Denmark. Today the marvellous merchant’s houses and impressive warehouses still reflect the wealth that Flensburg had achieved in colonial times. The economic and social impacts that this period made on Flensburg are well researched and the city identifies itself as a ‘Rum-City’, yet the colonial legacy has not been properly investigated.

The year 2017 will mark the centennial of the sale of the Danish West Indies by Denmark to the United States, thus becoming the US Virgin Islands. The centennial provides an important opportunity to rethink and reflect on the colonial history of Flensburg. With this in mind, the Flensburg Maritime Museums is starting a research project, CulturalTransfer, that will analyse the common colonial heritage of today’s US Virgin Islands and Flensburg. The results of the research will be presented in 2017 in an exhibition and a publication, for a broad audience.

Rethinking means new perspectives. Thanks to the support from the programme ‘Fellowship International Museum’ of the Kulturstiftung des Bundes (German Federal Culture Foundation) the Maritime Museum now, for the first time, has the opportunity to widen its Euro-centric perspective on Flensburg’s colonial history towards an Afro-Caribbean perspective, and to start a transatlantic dialogue.

The programme will enable the museum to invite Dr Imani Tafari-Ama from Jamaica for an 18-month research residency to Flensburg. Dr Tafari-Ama is an acknowledged expert in Caribbean culture and history with an emphasis on gender, race, political economy, development, Rastafari and popular culture. The museum is confident that this multidisciplinary consultant and lecturer with local, regional and international experience at several institutions (University of the West Indies, Brown University in Providence, among others) will make a valuable, distinctive and stimulating contribution to the museum’s work.

The history of slavery and the tansatlantic slavetrade is a central part of the permanent exhibition "Slaves, Sugar, Rum", opened in 2012. The exhibition is a starting point for a deeper reflection of Flensburg's colonial legacy.

The research and exhibition project is part of a co-operation with the Museum Sønderjylland - Kulturhistorie Aabenraa (Denmark) and the Slesvigske Samling at the Dansk Centralbibliotek for Sydslesvig (Germany). Together the two museums and the library will publish a book on the colonial legacy of the region, develop a map and trail of places that are related to colonial history and produce learning materials on colonial history and globalisation for schools.