Think a likkle: Lineage of thought - a podcast from Ellie Ikiebe, a New Museum School trainee at Carlyle's House

Ellie Ikiebe, New Museum School trainee at Carlyle's House, Fenton House, and 2 Willow Road Ellie Ikiebe New Museum School trainee at Carlyle's House, Fenton House, and 2 Willow Road
Carlyles House exterior

Thomas Carlyle is one of the most influential figures you may never have heard of. He was a Victorian author and intellectual, who lived in the home now known as 'Carlyle’s house'. Thomas Carlyle wrote 'The history of the world is but the biography of great men'. Alan Moore’s 'Watchmen' breaks down the idea of how we tell the stories of those we consider 'great'.

In this podcast, Ellie Ikiebe, New Museum School trainee at the National Trust – Carlyle's House, Fenton House, and 2 Willow Road, explores the question - 'Is there a lineage of thought?'

The Black Lives Matter movement deeply reminded us all that history is not in the past it continues to inform how people behave and think today. How the past affects the present has deeply motivated my work and this podcast poses the question is there a lineage of thought and could we find it in the stories of heroes if we told the whole story.

Some may ask if I have the right to ask such questions, my response: who has the legitimising voice when creating the narrative of history? To many there is a look and sound that equals legitimate, people who don’t look like me or have my background are treated with a level of expected intelligence at a default. Whereas misfits to the mould are poked and prodded for a validity that their counterparts are immediately granted. This limits perspectives and questions.

Coming from a Nigerian British background that is under celebrated and underrepresented in western heritage. I have a strong drive to bring about change and share hidden narratives, this podcast is an outlet for new perspectives and the trust is supporting emerging voices like mine by hosting my podcast. 

The desire for history to be presented in its full context and an end to the Disneyfication of past. What I mean is that air-brushing the past severs us from the important message of the past which inform our present. If we truly acknowledged the lineage of thought, popular society would see the links between colonialism, white supremacy to the injustice of Breonna Taylor's death and the black lives matter movement. 

It’s this lack of representation and the link that prompted me to do my podcast on Thomas Carlyle. History is not solely academic; it is also powerfully emotive. How does history make people think and feel?  

Default and Discomfort

I’m going to elaborate on two points that influenced my podcast: Default and Discomfort. What do I mean by default? To be the default means your achievements or presence are not challenged. We expect to see certain people in the room, and we do not question who is not there. That is what it means to be the default. Whiteness, as the default, means that everything acquiesces to whiteness, including the way that we structure language and the way that we narrate history. This is a key part of the lineage of thought.

" There seems to be a lineage of thought that is as important as a bloodline."
- Ellie Ikiebe

Now we come to discomfort, what I mean by discomfort: If some people are comfortable other people are going to be uncomfortable, it really about whose comfort is prioritised at every stage in cultural heritage. Those who have the privilege of being the default may feel discomfort when this is challenged, but it is positive to embrace and actively seek discomfort.

The gaps in Thomas Carlyle’s narrative are noticeable. He is lauded as a great thinker, but it is dishonest to focus on the thoughtfulness of Thomas Carlyle but not address thoughtlessness. I highlight that this thoughtlessness did not start with him and it is connected to our present day. Why are there gaps in the narrative? White washing. Full context is uncomfortable, it prompts uncomfortable questions and uncomfortable stories. For example, in the podcast I mention the connection between Thomas Carlyle and the Morant bay rebellion. Even in Carlyle’s time his stance on the murder of 400 Jamaicans was condemned by many, I imagine it wouldn’t be highlighted because it is not good for his image, my question does it have to be good?

We are accustomed to think of people in binaries of good and bad, when we are both. We need discomfort to challenge the default narrative of historic figures especially in historic homes and museums. The one-sided narrative is oppressive and cannot change without discomfort. White-washing narratives need to stop for a full historical context that does justice to the importance, pain, and realities of colonialism and the terrible ideas that were formulated to make black lives of less value. We challenge the default by questioning it and so we must learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

It is important that historic places and spaces offer honesty and transparency when presenting, interpreting and displaying heroes and their stories. We should consider what history we are missing out on by only investigating from the default perspective. If we looked from the non-default, what connective points would we find? Where does the lineage of thought take us? 

" The architects of our present time are long gone but their thoughts live on in our actions."
- Ellie Ikiebe