BBC Who Do You Think You Are? ft Liz Bonnin

Last night, the popular BBC show Who Do You Think You Are? featured the science presenter Liz Bonnin. I was particularly excited about the programme, because behind the scenes, I had helped the researchers to prepare her episode!

In the spring, I received an email out of the blue asking if I could help with the programme because it was going to include a celebrity with links in Martinique. The researchers had found me online, which was a great surprise, and reminds me of the importance of keeping my staff profile page up to date…!

At that stage, I wasn’t allowed to know who the celebrity was, so my mind went into overdrive 🙂

The emails duly arrived… I helped the team look at some archival documents – birth, marriage and death records – mainly providing contextual advice on the French Caribbean, and also adding some specific comments on the information the researchers had already compiled, to help them deepen their understanding. They had questions about Martinican history, language and culture, as well as specific questions about the documents that they had found.

When I saw the name Gros-Désormeaux, I knew it rang a bell… there is a Martinican publishing house, Désormeaux, whose books I cite in my own research, so I mentioned this to the team… in the end, it turned out to be the same family!

We had a couple of long phone conversations, and I was really impressed by the quality of the research that the WDYTYA? team had carried out – they had clearly used online databases which I use in the course of my academic research.

I was able to use my language skills and knowledge to help the team understand that in the French Caribbean context, the French word ‘l’habitation’ is not translated by ‘habitation’, as it is the word used for a plantation.

They then sent me a further batch of documents, which included the celebrity’s surname, so at that point, I had to sign a disclaimer to acknowledge that I would not spill the beans before the programme was scheduled! This was all new to me, and an exiting development! I was delighted to see it was Liz Bonnin, whose work I really admire.

Last night, when the documents that I had looked at popped up on TV, I was jumping up and down on my sofa! And then the word ‘habitation’ was subtitled as ‘plantation’, which was a bonus 🙂

Liz Bonnin’s thought-provoking story really captures the complexity of societies in Martinique & Trinidad. I am so pleased to have made a contribution to helping her fascinating story reach the UK public!

And I think it’s going to become required viewing for my students… 🙂

Missed it? View at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08501cj

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