The Muse, the Fiddler, and the African Roscius: Peopling Black Britain 1700-2020

Short course

+44 (0)20 7942 2000

On this six-week in-person course we will study how images of identifiable Black people from British history help us to repopulate and reconstruct their personal lives, communities, and associations across three centuries.
On a broader level, what can they tell us about how Black people in Britain have navigated and responded to the transitions from enslavement to abolition, independence, and the civil rights movements of the 20th century?

course photo
Portrait of V&A Academy Course Leader  S I Martin

V&A Academy Course Leader
S I Martin

Specialising in Black British history and literature, S.I. Martin has worked with museums, archives, and the education sector bringing diverse histories to wider audiences. He has published six books of historical fiction, non-fiction, and museum studies for adults and young people.

V&A courses have exceeded my expectations. Previous course attendee

Course overview

Using a selection of images from the V&A and other collections, this course will examine the changing ways in which the Black presence in Britain was depicted across 3 centuries of enormous global and domestic upheaval. Particular attention will be paid to how the legal status and social mobility of Black people was reflected in the visual arts. From Olaudah Equiano and Dido Elizabeth Belle to lesser-known sitters and figures in crowd scenes, the course will be illustrated by an extraordinary spectrum of lives and personal stories. 

We will explore how the impact of Black British culture and politics ranged from local to national and global spheres. We shall focus on self-representation and Black British artists and photographers in the 20th century. As their work reached new markets, we ask how the Black image has changed and, if so, for whom and why. Particular issues will be raised surrounding collections policies and accessibility to derogatory depictions of people of African origin, notably in the areas of 'Blackface Minstrelsy' and 'Human Zoos'. 

NB. Given the nature of this subject there will be images that some might find distressing. 

Programme to be announced. 

Enrol now

Short course: The Muse, the Fiddler, and the African Roscius: Peopling Black Britain 1700-2020

2 October 2024 - 6 November 2024


Need help enrolling? Talk to the admissions team:

+44 (0)20 7942 2000

Open 10.00 - 13.00, Monday to Sunday (closed 24-26 December)

Related events

Header image: Oil painting entitled 'The Toy Seller' by William Mulready. Great Britain, 1835.FA.149[O]