The Insights newsletter highlights innovative programing with ACCENT. This excerpt comes from our May 2015. For more Insights, visit our newsletter archives at: www.accentintl.com/program-development
It takes a motivated student to be out of bed and on-site for class by six in the morning, but for the University of California students who rose to the occasion, a visit to Billingsgate Fish Market in East London proved a fascinating addition to Dr. Peter Jones’ course, Tales from the Migrant Metropolis, 1860 – 2009. Much to the students’ surprise, a visit to the United Kingdom’s largest inland fish market tied in perfectly.
The course explores migration and mobility as a means of decoding the experience of London in the modern era. In close readings of the urban novel, students connect with unsettled, restless, and dislocated voices as they speak about identity in a city characterized by its migrant histories.
The students were led through the market by a marine biologist and former fishmonger with more than fifty years’ experience at Billingsgate. The tour began with the history of the market, before moving to the trading floor to come face-to-face with the fish, familiar and exotic.
The guides gave an extensive history of the impact of migration on the consumption of fish in Britain, as well as information on endangered species, pricing, regulation, and even some cooking tips. On the morning of the visit, fish prices had spiked overnight due to a storm off the south coast of England that had kept the boats in the harbor.
What most interested the group, however, was the visual representation of multicultural British society, and East London in particular. Students toured stalls specializing in salt cod for the West Indian market and a Sri Lankan trader explained his struggles with EU import regulations.
The students had been reading about markets in 19th century London and during the visit learned that even with today’s heightened regulations, Billingsgate still operates as it did in 1850 when the doors first opened on its newly constructed building on Lower Thames Street.
At the end of the tour, students joined their guides for a traditional British breakfast of kedgeree, a spicy rice dish with smoked haddock. This was the market’s first visit from a university group, but it certainly will not be the last from ACCENT.