The Barbados Museum and Historical Society is located in a former military prison. Its original purpose of control through force and containment is clear and obvious when I entered the present-day museum. Cannons flank the entrance, a symbol of calculated and brutal violence. The façade is imposing, an intimidating tall arch way designed not to invite but to deter entrance. However, today it is a place of education, a site of liberation for the thousands of stories of people and events in the island’s past. That past for Barbados is incredibly complex. Built on coldly calculated and horrific brutality of agricultural production and subsequent cultural diffusion, the island today grapples with economic, political, and social successes, challenges, and the myriad of geographic factors that influence their narrative to the present day.

Education is critical to Barbadians history and culture. Education was restricted from enslaved Africans, planters viewing an education as catalyst for rebellion. Upon becoming a sovereign nation, Barbados made a social and political commitment to education. Across the island, the pride and commitment to education is obvious. It is the theme that many social-historians touch on as a key marker for its rise in development relative to other island countries that make up the Caribbean. Barbadian planters feared the liberating force of education, Barbadians themselves intertwined economic and political independence with education, and today, many Barbadians put high value on education’s ability to promote the freedom of job opportunity and prosperity on or outside of the island.

This literal former prison’s repurposing into a historic museum was itself a catalyst to understanding Barbados, but also the challenge of the humanities as people grapple with their own past, present, and the connections between them. As people, we look to past individuals and stories and attempt to reutilize or repurpose them to educate, improve, or respond to contemporary and future challenges. This museum, and its reutilization of the prison as a place of confinement to that of freedom is symbolic of that process. Barbados’ past is brutal and complex and, rather than imprisoning that narrative, we must learn and use those real and human truths to promote a better future.

– John Skelton (Teacher, VA)