What can ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’ tell us about Global Trade and Exploitation?

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How, through the simple everyday act of drinking a cup of tea, are we are all linked to the history of Empire, trade and transatlantic slavery? A new project aims to address this question. Myfanwy Lloyd is a part-time Tutor at Continuing Education, otherwise free-lance historian and museum consultant, working with her colleague Angeli Vaid who specialises in heritage and community outreach projects. Along with two History DPhil students, Elisabeth Grass and Mimi Goodall, they are working with the Pitt Rivers Museum as well as the Museum of Oxford, Ashmolean, Faculty of History, Common Ground (commonground-oxford.com), Oxford City Council & Museum of Oxford and the Oxford Windrush Planning Group (Chaired by Junie James, Director of ACKHI) on a number of activities under the broad project 'A Nice Cup of Tea'. They have received Knowledge Exchange Seed Funding for this term, and funds from other sources for projects over the next year. 

The idea for ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’ came from looking at the collections of 18th century porcelain that are held in The Ashmolean Museum. What could be discovered from putting these objects into their proper social context? How far have our tea habits in Britain been driven by the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism? From the tea itself, imported via Britain’s colonial trade links, porcelain and ceramics imported from China and sugar, the result of exploitation and slavery.

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Image © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

The aim of 'A Nice Cup of Tea' is to work with local community members to explore the complex legacy of Empire, transatlantic slavery and trade, particularly in relation to Oxford City and Oxford University. There are five interwoven strands to the programme. 

  • Tea Party: Community Tea Party involving a pop-up exhibition, readings and discussions; 
  • Tea Chest: producing a ‘Handling collection’ of historical and contemporary artefacts to stimulate discussion and creative work in schools; 
  • Tea Shop: Community-led and curated temporary exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum; This work is being supported by The Arts Society Oxford -  theartssocietyoxford.org.uk/ 
  • Tea Table: a forum to debate the legacy of slave trade and Empire with events at the Pitt Rivers Museum;  
  • Tea-Tales: Creative and artistic performances exploring the theme/concept from young people, youth & community groups.

As part of the project’s wide ranging and varied events calendar, the Faculty of History is focusing their annual History ‘Teach-in’ around “Commemorating the Windrush Experience”. This year’s teach-in is designed to bring alive the experience and impact of the ‘Windrush Generation’ and its descendants. This will split into four sessions, which focus on the following themes: “Windrush and Calypso”, “Windrush and Literature”, “Post-War Asian Migration”, “Oxford’s Windrush Generation”. 

One of the first events being run is on Sunday 1 July, when A Nice Cup of Tea will be running a community Tea Party as part of the Oxford Festival of the Arts 'Around the World in Eight Nations' day including a pop-up exhibition, based on research by Mimi Goodall and Elisabeth Grass.  Interspersed throughout the Tea Party there will be poetry and song from Euton Daley (http://www.eutondaley.com/about.html) and Amantha Edmead (http://www.amanthaedmead.com/home.html).

These events are part of a larger suite of commemorative events being coordinated by the African Caribbean Kultural Heritage Initiative (see https://ackhi.org/), the Oxford City Council, the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Oxford University History Faculty.