The Mix-d: Museum was founded in 2012 as a means to share more widely and permanently the findings of small British Academy-funded research project undertaken in 2007 by Drs Chamion Caballero and Peter Aspinall into official accounts and firsthand experiences of racial mixing in 20th century Britain. The project identified a range of material from national and local archives, including official documents, autobiographical recordings and photos and film materials, which furthered our understanding of how social perceptions of racial mixing and mixedness emerged during this period and the effect they had on the lives of mixed race people, couples and families themselves, as well as their place in shaping contemporary ideas and experiences. The findings inspired and formed the foundation of the critically acclaimed BBC2 series Mixed Britannia (2011) and are further explored in the book Mixed Race Britain in The Twentieth Century (2018) published by Palgrave Macmillan.
As part of their commitment to share the findings with an audience outside academia, in 2012 Drs Caballero and Aspinall partnered with Bradley Lincoln of the social enterprise Mix-d: and web designer Stephen Ireland of Ivyparkmedia to create a trial digital archive showcasing the material we had collected. With the support of a small grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the ‘Mix-d: Museum’ was formed and has proved a resounding success, acting as a well-used resource to visitors from 180 countries.
In our next stage - Amplifying the Mix-d: Museum – we are seeking to transition the Museum from a pilot website to an interactive and sustainable online museum, providing digital exhibitions, publications and archival services that build on our aim of contributing to uncovering of the often unknown or overlooked history of the experiences of minority ethnic communities in Britain, including those who were in or from mixed race families.
Dr Chamion Caballero is a senior research fellow in the Weeks Centre for Social and Policy Research at London South Bank University. Her research interests include race and ethnicity, particularly mixed race, families, social history and qualitative research methods. Along with Ros Edwards, Suki Ali and Miri Song, she is co-editor of the book International Perspectives on Racial and Ethnic Mixing and Mixedness (Routledge, 2012) and is currently writing up findings from an ESRC-funded project on lone mothers of mixed racial and ethnic children as well as co-authoring a monograph with Peter Aspinall on the 20th century history of mixed race Britain.
Chamion has been worked on projects funded by the Department for Education and Skills, the British Academy, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Nuffield Foundation and the Runnymede Trust. Her published research, alone and with colleagues, includes a number of reports for these funders: Mixedness and the Arts (2010); Lone Mothers: Then and Now (2010); Parenting ‘Mixed’ Children: negotiating difference and belonging in mixed race and faith families (2008); Aiming High: Evaluation of African Caribbean Achivement Project (2006) and Understanding the Educational Needs of Mixed Heritage Children (2004).
Findings from various research projects have featured in a number of newspaper and television articles and reports and her research with Peter Aspinall on mixed race people, families and couples in 20th century Britain, also formed the foundation of the BBC2 television series ‘Mixed Britannia’.
As researchers interested in mixed race people, couples and families, we were aware that the little history that had been told about this group had assumed that theirs was an inherently negative or problematic experience. We were also aware that such perceptions continued to influence how mixed people, couples and families were seen in Britain today.
Knowing that contemporary research on racial mixing has challenged perceptions of mixed race people, couples and families in Britain today by asking them about their experiences, rather than assuming what these are, we were keen to see if we could identify earlier accounts that might also cause us to revise our previous understandings of these groups. In particular, we wanted to compare ‘official’ accounts – e.g. government reports, social science research, newspaper articles, etc. – with those of mixed race people, couples and families themselves. Through a British Academy grant, we began to undertake this research, mainly in the dockland areas of London, Liverpool and Cardiff where we already knew many mixed race couples had met and raised children had settled in the early 20th century.
We had hoped to find some records and personal accounts relating to these families and people, but what we found far exceeded our expectations. The project sourced a fantastic range of archival material, including official documents, autobiographical recordings and photo and film material, which has helped us to understand more about the experiences of these families and the effect that official attitudes to racial mixing and mixedness had on their lives.
Though the archival material formed the foundations of the BBC2 series Mixed Britannia – a fantastic way to share the history with a wider audience – we were aware that the television programme was a temporary and partial glimpse into this history. Caroline Bressey has said that there is often an ‘absence of colour’ in archives and we very much wanted to help highlight the history of black and ethnic minority Britain – including ‘mixed race Britain’ – to more audiences, including those of young people. So the opportunity to collaborate with Mix-d, through funding by the Arts and Humanities Council, is a great way for us to share our work in what we hope is an informative and creative way.