Mystic, Conn. (June 23, 2021) – Mystic Seaport Museum announces the appointment of Akeia de Barros Gomes, Ph.D., as the Museum’s new senior curator for social maritime histories. De Barros Gomes, a multi-dimensional museum professional and educator, comes to Mystic Seaport Museum from the New Bedford Whaling Museum and will join the Mystic staff on July 6, 2021.
“We look forward to welcoming Akeia back to Connecticut and to our Museum,” said Peter Armstrong, president of Mystic Seaport Museum. “She is a key part of an institution-wide reframing of the traditional narratives around the American maritime experience as it relates to African, African-American, and Indigenous peoples. As America’s leading maritime museum, we are proud to have Akeia join our staff to help lead a necessary reflection on how America’s activities on the world’s oceans have — and continue to play — a part in our country’s society from the position of race and slavery. We are deeply grateful to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, whose support made this position possible.”
As senior curator of social maritime histories, de Barros Gomes 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 in collaboration with Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice and Williams College funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The exhibit 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, de Barros Gomes will lead a curatorial team in the development of educational programs, both in-house and online, related to those themes.
The curatorial position is supported by a $4.9 million grant from the Mellon Foundation. 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.
The collaborative project, titled “Reimagining New England Histories: Historical Injustice, Sovereignty and Freedom,” is creating new work and study opportunities at all three institutions, particularly for scholars, curators, and students from underrepresented groups, and will support the Museum’s exhibition.
De Barros Gomes has spent the last 3 years at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, where she was the curator of social history. In that role, she was responsible for the curation of exhibitions, installation of exhibitions, historical research, and interpretive public programs and public outreach. Exhibitions of note include Ripples: Through a Wampanoag Lens; In the Neighborhood; Captain Paul Cuffe: His Work, Vision and Living Legacy; and Enlightened Encounters: The Two Nations of Manjiro Nakahama. Prior to her position in New Bedford, de Barros Gomes was an assistant professor at Wheelock College where she taught a variety of subjects in the Departments of Psychology and Human Development and American Studies. She also served as an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut from 2009-2010. De Barros Gomes received a Ph.D. in Anthropology/Archaeology from the University of Connecticut. Her prior education includes a BA in Anthropology/Archaeology at Salve Regina University and a MA in Anthropology/Archaeology from the University of Connecticut. She serves on the Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey Advisory Commission for the State of Massachusetts and the Board of Trustees for the Newport Historical Society.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to initiate this new role at Mystic Seaport Museum,” said de Barros Gomes. “It is not only important that Indigenous, African, and African American stories are given their rightful place in the historical narrative of this country, it is essential that historical narratives are a collaborative effort and that their voices are a primary voice in telling that history.”
“I have had the great privilege of working with Akeia at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, and have seen first-hand her lasting contributions to community connections, scholarship, and programming in that wonderful city,” said Christina Connett Brophy, senior director of museum galleries and senior vice president of curatorial affairs. “We are thrilled she will be joining Mystic Seaport Museum as the first appointee of a now permanent position that addresses diversity in American Maritime History and broadens our capacity to engage visitors in a more inclusive conversation.”
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About Mystic Seaport Museum
Mystic Seaport Museum, founded in 1929, is the nation’s leading maritime museum. In addition to providing a multitude of immersive experiences, the Museum also houses a collection of more than two million artifacts that include more than 500 historic vessels and one of the largest collections of maritime photography in the world. Mystic Seaport Museum is located one mile south of Exit 90 off I-95 in Mystic, CT. For more information, please visit www.mysticseaport.org and follow Mystic Seaport Museum on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.