Tiverton Community Heritage Coordinator Lizzie Mee writes about the thinking involved in planning an exhibition…

It’s been a busy start to the year in Tiverton! We’ve begun preparations for recording our oral histories. Meanwhile, the volunteers and I are also busy planning our final exhibition. The narrative of the exhibition is starting to take shape… nevertheless, it’s not been an easy process.

We have had many discussions about who might be part of the exhibition and why. What do we mean by cultural and ethnic minority? Whose stories are ‘interesting’ (and who gets to make those decisions)? Is it ok to include German Prisoners of War but not wealthy Germans coming from African colonial countries in the 1800s… and if so, why?

There’s also been lots of conversation about the terms we use. Do people even like the terms that we started our project with, for example ‘ethnic minority’? (Increasingly we’ve been finding that people don’t want to be described in this way).

These conversations are very necessary and they get to the heart of the difficulties of defining a project that is about people and their boundless differences (but who share a common connection in Tiverton). Something that remains at the core of our conversations is the idea of ‘hidden histories’. It’s been interesting working out who is currently represented in Tiverton Museum (and indeed in other museums) and who isn’t – and then to go looking for the stories that haven’t been told.

When our exhibition in Tiverton opens, we hope that you’ll come and discover something new, and explore stories that haven’t been shared before. Of course, part of the nature of conducting an oral history project is that we’ll be sharing some contemporary stories about Tiverton today – but it’s important to remember that some of those stories are only possible because of things that have happened in the past (near and distant). These past histories might include untold stories: of European migration; of wars little known; of prejudice and victimisation; of those fleeing from poverty or autocratic governments. Often they are very personal stories, and for those telling them, might even be ones about family, finding a place to live and work.