Museums & Memory WG | Memory, Activism and Social Justice TFDC 1.17
Jul 05, 2023 13:30 - 15:00(Europe/London)
20230705T1330 20230705T1500 Europe/London 4.7. Museums and Memory #3: Race, Memory and the Museum

Memory of slavery and racial violence has long been silent or muted in US museums, historical sites and public spaces. Most sites that have focused on African American history tend toward triumphant narratives of racial progress; others that are deeply implicated, like numerous Southern plantations, have ignored this past almost entirely. This is beginning to change with a wave of new museums, exhibits and narratives that seek to reframe this difficult history. This panel examines the silences that have long dominated US memory of slavery and race and examines new museological efforts to recover this history and challenge hegemonic narratives.

Susan Garza, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi

Conflict, Violence and Memory in Plantation Spaces: The Need for CounterstoryThis presentation focuses on plantation memorial spaces. I examine these plantation memorial spaces in order to show that the way the story is told through the visual, creates the stories of the lived experiences of the enslaved who were victimized in these spaces. And if no visuals exist, the story does not exist. Plantation victims are largely ignored, virtually non existent in these plantation memorial spaces. For example, at two plantations located near Charleston, South Carolina, in the United States, no memorials are found in these spaces to represent the enslaved who were tortured, killed. Visual silence stands instead. One celebrates beautiful, lush gardens, and the well preserved plantation house. This is a memorial space focused on architecture and nature, celebrating the white culture that created it. the enslaved people who were victimized in this space, how the enslaved were tortured and killed. The second plantation also celebrates architecture, focusing on restoration, another ...

TFDC 1.17 MSA Conference Newcastle 2023 conference@memorystudiesassociation.org
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Memory of slavery and racial violence has long been silent or muted in US museums, historical sites and public spaces. Most sites that have focused on African American history tend toward triumphant narratives of racial progress; others that are deeply implicated, like numerous Southern plantations, have ignored this past almost entirely. This is beginning to change with a wave of new museums, exhibits and narratives that seek to reframe this difficult history. This panel examines the silences that have long dominated US memory of slavery and race and examines new museological efforts to recover this history and challenge hegemonic narratives.



Susan Garza, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi

Conflict, Violence and Memory in Plantation Spaces: The Need for Counterstory

This presentation focuses on plantation memorial spaces. I examine these plantation memorial spaces in order to show that the way the story is told through the visual, creates the stories of the lived experiences of the enslaved who were victimized in these spaces. And if no visuals exist, the story does not exist. Plantation victims are largely ignored, virtually non existent in these plantation memorial spaces. For example, at two plantations located near Charleston, South Carolina, in the United States, no memorials are found in these spaces to represent the enslaved who were tortured, killed. Visual silence stands instead. One celebrates beautiful, lush gardens, and the well preserved plantation house. This is a memorial space focused on architecture and nature, celebrating the white culture that created it. the enslaved people who were victimized in this space, how the enslaved were tortured and killed. The second plantation also celebrates architecture, focusing on restoration, another example of the white framing of memory. Again, the plantation house visually creates memory in this space, while the slave cemetery, even though it is the first space visitors encounter as they enter the plantation space, is visually ignored as no signage is present to guide visitors there, and it is not included as part of the plantation tour. I will emphasize in this presentation the need for Counterstory, as called for by A. J. Martinez (2020). Counterstory genres through the framework of Critical Race Theory can provide new narratives from perspectives that present the victimization of the enslaved, different visual descriptions of these spaces where horrible atrocities occurred. Counterstory provides space for marginalized voices to push against dominant ideologies where visualization of victimization of the enslaved is not present. My analysis of the visual material rhetoric in plantation spaces exemplifies the power of the visual in shaping beliefs, especially the embodied effect on those who experience these visual spaces. Memory is created through visual design, through patterns and beliefs. Increasing awareness of the victimization


Dr Jenny Woodley, Nottingham Trent University

Ghosts, Graves, and the Big House: Searching for the Dead at US Plantation Museums

Southern plantations are spaces in which generations of white and Black people lived and died. And yet, in most plantation museums (if that term is even appropriate), the stories of those lives and those deaths are not told equally. For example, there is a plantation in Louisiana which holds an annual 'mourning tour' when the house is dressed in traditional mourning for the white slave-owning family, but not one for the enslaved who also died on the plantation. At other sites, Black death is absent save for the commodification of slave 'ghosts', who supposedly haunt the Big House. Burial grounds of the enslaved are under threat from neglect and industrial development. In this paper, I ask whether and how the absence of death perpetuates the obliteration of the enslaved in such spaces. However, there are also some museums which strive to remember the experiences of enslaved people. Institutions such as the Whitney memorialise the African Americans who lived there. Therefore, I also want to understand how the dead are remembered in such museums and to explore how incorporating narratives of death can lead us to better understand the realities of living under slavery.


Eric W. Ross, George Mason University

"They remain the challenges of today" Black Reconstruction at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Opening in September 2021 and running until August 2022, "Make Good the Promises: Reconstruction and its Legacies" was a much heralded exhibition at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, DC. The exhibit explored the period immediately following the American Civil War in the 19th century. Reconstruction was a moment of possibility in American history the reshaped the country in profound ways, ending in violent clashes over differing visions of what the future of the United States would or could become. Despite not realizing its full revolutionary potential, the exhibit argues that Reconstruction's legacies continue to inform the daily experiences of Americans of all races and that far from being resolved the competing visions of the future of the United States that emerged during Reconstruction continue to play a vital role in the political life of the nation. This project will look at how the NMAAHC makes connections between the 19th century and today. How the memories of Reconstruction continue to shape American life, and the responsibility that Americans today must recognize those memories as they flash up in our current moment of danger. Drawing on the works of Walter Benjamin, Jacques Ranciere, Alison Landsberg and others, this project will look at the ways that the NMAAHC uses the past to make sense of our present, suggesting that although Reconstruction fell short of its goals in the 19th century, it is not too late to take up the work once again to "make good the promises."


Amy Sodaro, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY

"Feeling Truth": Objects, Embodiment and Temporality in the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Legacy Museum

This paper analyzes how two new museums, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, DC, and the Legacy Museum: from Enslavement to Mass Incarceration in Montgomery, Alabama, narrate race, slavery and memory in the US. Both museums attempt to challenge dominant narratives of racial progress and center slavery in US history, but I focus on their very different exhibitionary strategies, in particular the role artifacts and authenticity play in the construction of their narratives. The NMAAHC relies heavily on the aura and materiality of the thousands of objects in its collection to tell its story, while the Legacy Museum, which has virtually no objects, relies on the authenticity of its location in Montgomery, a major center of US slavery, as well as innovative digital strategies to create affective and embodied encounters with the past. These differences reflect the "political economies" (Autry 2013) of the two museums, and shape their narratives in important ways, even as both museums seek to present a more critical and honest history of slavery in the US.

Professor of English
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Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
Nottingham Trent University
Doctoral Candidate
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George Mason University
Associate Professor of Sociology
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CUNY/Borough of Manhattan Community College
Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich
 Ene Kõresaar
Professor of Oral History and Memory Studies
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University of Tartu
PhD Candidate
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Department of Human Geography, Uppsala University
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