The ship The Matthew moored on the Avon with brightly coloured houses on the skyline.

Global citizenship in a local context: Bristol in focus

During this course, we will often return to the tensions that exist between the ‘local’ and the ‘global’. In this step, we want to give you a snapshot of where our ‘local’ is, and then ask you to share in what ways your ‘local’ is connected to the global community. This can be historically, politically, artistically, or even in much smaller, individual ways.

Where you are right now is already part of a much bigger, global picture, and things are happening around you which link you to this global community.

Let’s explore those connections in more detail, thinking about how they help us define the idea of global citizenship, first starting with the city of Bristol.

Our ‘local’ in a ‘global’ world

As a port city since Roman times, Bristol has always had a sense of its participation in a global world and a global economy.

A connection to the global has always been central to the city’s identity, from when Venetian navigator John Cabot (or Giovanni Caboto) set sail from here in 1497 hoping to find western passage to Asia, although he actually landed on the east coast of North America. A replica of his ship ‘The Matthew’ (which you can see in the picture above) is moored next to another important original Bristol-built ship, the restored ‘SS Great Britain.’ The SS Great Britain was launched in 1843 as the world’s first ocean-going iron ship, driven by a screw propeller.

The years between these voyages saw Bristol grow rich, and grow over five times the size in population, from its substantial involvement with the transatlantic slave, sugar, cotton and tobacco trade (the now infamous ‘triangle’ of trade). Even today, the city’s history is marked by its involvement in this horrific era, with many names of roads and buildings showing the links to the merchants of the time. Ideologically, this era is still very important to the city, and there is still intense debate about how best to acknowledge and learn from a terrible past that helped to fund the present city we know and love.

This legacy has, some argue, made Bristol a self-reflective city, as well as a diverse city. Today, Bristol is known for an eclectic combination of environmentalism (winning the European Green Capital award in 2015), engineering innovation (as the home of Concorde), urban art (including Banksy), and political activism (for the abolition of slavery in 1788, or thinking about the 1963 Bristol Bus Boycott). It’s also home to the BBC’s natural history unit, meaning that over 25% of the world’s documentaries on the natural world are filmed from here.

In Bristol, there are many individuals, communities, and organisations working towards global goals, or who have connections with countries and communities across the globe. Areas such as St Paul’s have a strong identity with different cultures and nations, including those from the Caribbean: this is reflected in the diversity of people, food, music (including a carnival), art and fashion.

As we explore global citizenship on this course, you might notice the various ways this city is connected, or reaches out, to the global world around us.

What about you?

Why not introduce yourself by telling us a bit more about your local area?

  • What connections to the global community do you see around you on a daily basis?

  • How does your city or town connect to the world, either historically or today?

  • In what way are you already interacting with a global community, both online or offline?

Throughout the course, you’ll notice text on pages highlighted in pink, as in this article. This pink text is highlighting a web link, so if you select the text you will be directed to another site with more information. You might want to open these links in a new tab or window in your browser, so you can easily come back to the course. In the ‘See Also’ section on each page, you might also find more links to find out more, or explore an idea or organisation in more detail. Why not start bookmarking or saving the ones you find interesting, so you can come back to them later?

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This article is from the free online course:

Unleash Your Potential: Global Citizenship

University of Bristol