A passionate voice in the campaign against racism and discrimination has received an honorary award from Edge Hill University today (17th July).
Dr Richard Benjamin, Head of the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool and co-Director of the Centre for the Study of International Slavery, is recognised within the academic community as one of the leading scholars on the heritage of black people in the country.
The former Edge Hill student has received his honorary doctorate in recognition of the outstanding contribution he has made to the understanding of the history and heritage of black people in the UK. Listen to his interview here.
Speaking after his ceremony, Richard said: “For me personally, Edge Hill not only shaped my career but my philosophy on life. I was brought up in a small Yorkshire town and although I was always aware of my family background and always proud of it, it was not until I came to Edge Hill and met students from an array of cultural backgrounds that I truly had a sense of my black identity.”
Born in Tadcaster, as a child he was taken to visit the newly opened Jorvik Viking Centre. This was one of his earliest ‘light bulb’ moments and from that moment on he was hooked on archaeology.
His undergraduate degree in Urban Policy, Community and Race Relations included studying the history of race relations. At 20-years-old it was the first time Richard had heard anything about Africa other than colonialism, the slave trade and apartheid. He cites his time at Edge Hill as the ‘epiphany’ moment he discovered black and African history and the turning point in how he thought about his own heritage when learning about great African leaders and the many African American inventors who have contributed to the modern world.
This gave Richard the confidence and conviction to follow his boyhood interests in the early history of British peoples and in 1997 began an MA in Archaeology. His PhD Black Identity & Social Inclusion through Archaeology & Heritage looked at how archaeology failed to present black people as active citizens in British history. And this perspective has had an important and valuable influence on the shape and profile of the International Slavery Museum.
Throughout Richard’s career he has combined academic research with community work and it is this distinctive combination of international and local, of public and private that has shaped and defined the role and remit of the Museum under his leadership.
Talking about his work, he said: “My job is demanding but very rewarding. In an age of austerity, museums have a vital role to play. They are not frivolous attractions but important social spaces of education, discovery, knowledge, and social and cultural interaction.
“I will continue making the museum a champion of social cohesion and social justice, challenging misconceptions and discrimination and bringing people together – not separating them.”
Giving graduates his final words of advice, he said: “In some small way, try and give something back to both your own community and society generally. Follow your passion – don’t accept mediocrity.”