We are thrilled to welcome Akeia de Barros Gomes to Mystic Seaport Museum as our new Senior Curator of Maritime Social Histories. Akeia comes to us from the New Bedford Whaling Museum, where she was the Curator of Social History. In that role, she was responsible for the curation and installation of exhibitions, historical research, and interpretive public programs and public outreach. Raised in Newport, RI, Akeia received a Ph.D. and M.A. in Anthropology with a focus in Archeology, from the University of Connecticut in 2008, and became a college professor before shifting to museum work.
Akeia was interested in archeology starting at the young age of 8. She says, “I feel like everyone wanted to be an archeologist growing up, but I never grew out of it.” We have Indiana Jones to thank for her passion for the subject. While watching the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” she was so excited and captivated by what she saw, her grandfather gave her a subscription to National Geographic. Yes, the National Geographic, not the kid’s subscription! She recalls sitting in the closet learning about all of these incredible cultures and what makes them so different from one another.
Her fascination with global perspectives and her passion for social history at such a young age has guided her and greatly impacted those communities around her along the way.
Akeia’s doctoral dissertation focused on her hometown of Newport and the black community that lives there. When reaching out to ask about places in Newport that reflect black history, she came back with results showing that very few people, if any, could think of just one location. This is something that she encounters regularly, as “history” is usually told through only one lens. The black or indigenous perspective is commonly overlooked, she says, so it is important to her that all stories be told rather than stressing specific viewpoints.
As senior curator of social maritime history, Akeia will be responsible for working on curatorial projects of race, Indigenous histories, ethnicity, and diversity in New England’s maritime activities as it relates to the site and collections of Mystic Seaport Museum. She will lead a multi-disciplinary team to examine the museum’s and other regional collections to develop contemporary re-imaginings of people’s actions in the past and present, and translating that into content relevant to today’s social environment. The first 2 years of the work will culminate in a major exhibition in the Fall of 2023 that will map a more complex historical framework of New England’s maritime history by engaging with questions of race and sovereignty, weaving a new narrative with a creative use of visual and material culture, archaeology, oral traditions, and songs and performance. Additionally, Akeia will lead a curatorial team in the development of educational programs, both in-house and online, related to those themes.
The position is supported by a $4.9 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice. Part of the Foundation’s Just Futures Initiative, the grant funds a partnership with Brown, Mystic Seaport Museum, and Williams College that uses maritime history as a basis for studying historical injustices and generating new insights on the relationship between European colonization in North America, the dispossession of Native American land, and racial slavery in New England.
In her new position — which she will inaugurate — Akeia hopes to share the stories of these communities through outreach. It is important to her that she directly connects with these communities rather than flipping through a book to learn about their history. When talking about her goals when it comes to Mystic Seaport Museum, she says “I am looking forward to incorporating the stories of indigenous people, Africans, and African Americans into the narrative at the Museum so that their stories become part of the story of maritime history in the United States. My goal is to work collaboratively with these contemporary communities so that they give us this story from their perspectives and within their meaning systems to make this narrative holistic and multi-vocal.”
We look forward to welcoming her to Mystic Seaport Museum team on July 6.