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Queen’s hosted Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Lonnie G. Bunch III

Queen’s welcomed Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Lonnie G. Bunch III, for an ‘In Conversation’ discussion exploring the vital role museums play in dealing with difficult pasts and divided presents.

Pictured L-R are: Minister for Communities, Gordon Lyons; Professor Olwen Purdue, Director of the Centre for Public History at Queen’s; Professor Sir Ian Greer, President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s; Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Lonnie G. Bunch III; Professor Margaret Topping, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Internationalisation at Queen’s; Dr Ryan Feeney, Vice-President of Strategic Engagement and External Affairs at Queen’s; and William Blair, Director of Collections at National Museums NI.

The event was hosted by the Centre for Public History and the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security, and Justice at Queen’s, and was part of a visit to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  

As Secretary of the Smithsonian, Secretary Bunch oversees 21 museums, 21 libraries, the National Zoo, numerous research centres, and several education units and centres, with two new museums – the National Museum of the American Latino and the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum – in development.  

Secretary Bunch, the first historian to be Secretary of the Institution, was the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. In 2021, he received France’s highest award, The Legion of Honor.  

The event was chaired by Professor Olwen Purdue, Director of the Centre for Public History at Queen's. The discussion explored the vital role of public history in society, as well as the challenges and opportunities that are associated with engaging a range of public audiences in exploring their own past and that of others.  

Secretary Bunch said: “History is important for shaping our future as it is the keeper of our collective memories. It helps us understand the tensions that have divided us. And those tensions are really where the learning is, where the growth is, where the opportunities to transform are. It's about giving people the confidence that they can overcome what has gone before, and point them towards a better shared future.” 

Professor Purdue commented: “It was an absolute honour to host Secretary Bunch here at Queen’s and to have the opportunity to discuss the important work he has been doing both as founding director of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture and now as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. It was particularly interesting to get his reflections on the role that museums can play in societies such as Northern Ireland where historical narratives are so deeply contested and to explore with him ways in which to engage audiences with sometimes difficult or traumatic pasts."

During his tour of Belfast, Secretary Bunch visited the Ulster Museum’s The Troubles and Beyond exhibition, murals on the Falls Road and Shankill Road, and the statue of Frederick Douglass in Belfast City Centre. 

William Blair, Director of Collections, National Museums NI stated: “The Troubles and Beyond exhibition at Ulster Museum performs a unique role in post-conflict Northern Ireland. It not only explores our complex past, but also encourages conversations and dialogue through its inclusive approach. 

“Secretary Bunch’s visit reinforces the museum’s pivotal role in shaping narratives based on diverse experiences and perspectives, and fostering empathy in our shared journey toward peace and reconciliation.”


Media enquiries to Zara McBrearty at Queen's Communications Office on email: