Righting History

Sarah Hannon re-examines slavery and the nature of emancipation in Bermuda from a post-colonial perspective.

Much of the written history surrounding the emancipation of slaves in Bermuda has been framed by colonialism. Sarah Hannon takes a post-colonial approach to re-examining this topic, with hopes of contributing to a broader history narrative that acknowledges the centrality of slavery to colonial Bermudian society.

Where are you from?
I’m from St. John’s, NL.

Where, and in what area, did you do your undergraduate or previous graduate work?
I completed a bachelor of arts in history with honours [BA(Hons.)], here at Memorial

Why did you choose to pursue a graduate degree?
I’ve known I wanted to do a graduate degree for a long time. I think once I got through the first year of my BA and had proven to myself that I was capable of doing the work, I committed myself to it. For me, it is really about being challenged intellectually. It’s hard work, but I get a great deal of satisfaction out of research and writing, and I love that I get to spend so much of my time reading. I am just finishing my master of arts (MA) now, but I plan to begin applying to doctoral programs soon and pursue a career in academia. I truly love my work and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.

Why did you choose Memorial for graduate or postdoctoral studies?
Memorial is home for me. Both of my parents studied education at Memorial, and four of my seven siblings have also studied here. I love living in St. John’s, and it’s a great privilege to be educated where my family and friends are.

How would you describe your experience as a graduate student at Memorial?
Pursuing a graduate degree at Memorial has been incredibly exciting and satisfying for me. In my first year, I travelled to Bermuda in February to do research in the archives, and to Barbados in June to present at a conference. I’ve started to work closely with historical documents, and to develop my own ideas about my field. I’ve learned more than I thought possible in a very short span of time.

What is your degree program and area of specialization?
I’m currently completing a master of arts in history with a focus in slavery and emancipation in the Caribbean.

Why did you choose this area of study?
I’ve been interested in slavery since taking my first couple courses on it during my undergrad, here at Memorial. I think it is deeply important work, especially in the current political climate. Slavery laid the foundations for society as we know it, and it is imperative that we come to terms with that history in order to move forward.

What is your research/thesis about?
My current research considers the nature of emancipation in Bermuda. I spend a lot of time thinking about how slavery and emancipation in Bermuda have been framed by historians, colonial administrators’ attitudes towards emancipation leading up to the event, the disparate expectations and understanding of freedom between black and white people in Bermuda’s 19th-century, and the legal and social realities for freed Bermudians.

What is the goal of your research?
I would like to contribute to a history which acknowledges the centrality of slavery to colonial Bermudian society and which is honest and reckons with that past in a meaningful way.

Why did you choose this research question/topic?
I think it’s a foundational question and one which will help to determine the nature of future discussion on the topic.

How do you work with your supervisor? Does your work involve other students?
I’m very fortunate to have an exceptionally committed and astute supervisor, though there is no shortage of mentors in the history department. Dr. Neil Kennedy’s advice has been indispensable in guiding my reading and writing, and he is always honest and kind. Most recently, we co-authored a paper and presented it at an international conference in Barbados.

Any recent awards/honours?
In the past year, I won the Joseph Armand Bombardier Scholarship for master’s students, the Dean’s Excellence Award, the Graduate Officer’s Award, and a Scholarship in the Arts Travel Bursary.

Are there any difficulties in life that you’ve overcome to pursue graduate studies?
I have overcome a lot to get where I am today. I grew up in poverty. I spent most of my teens living in foster homes and group homes, I was an angry and confused kid and I dropped out of high school in the Grade 10. My dad passed away when I was five, my best friend when I was 14, my mom when I was 21. I educated myself. I live with chronic illness. If that sounds nuts, imagine living it. I fought my way into university and I owe a lot to the friends and family who’ve fought with me.

What are you planning to do after you complete your degree?
Once I finish my master’s, I plan to continue with doctoral studies.

Do you have any advice for current and/or future graduate students?
Know that everyone is struggling, it’s not just you. Make friends with other students and rid yourself of the idea that your peers and colleagues are your competitors. Be kind, and surround yourself with kind people. Take care of yourself and take help wherever you can get it. You’re good enough.

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