Visualizing Race and Gender in Historic Site Interpretation

Saturday, January 6, 2018
Atrium (Marriott Wardman Park)
Rebecca K. Shrum, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis
In excess of 78 million visitors annually experience over 8,000 historic sites in the United States where they learn about and engage with the history of our nation. Yet, even as we attempt to communicate the sensory, emotional, and intellectual aspects of the past, historic sites often focus on the “grand narrative” of American history that privileges the words, voices, and experiences of wealthy white men. This gendered and racial concentration often excludes not just broader historical trends but also the lived experiences of white women and people of color whose historical legacy has been clouded by a lack of physical artifacts and limited preservation of their written or oral experiences.

This poster, consisting of visualizations with explanatory text, highlights how ten plantation sites and house museums in the greater Charleston, South Carolina area tell the stories of the individuals who populated the site—men and women; enslaved and free; African, Indian, and European. While scholars have explored how African American narratives might be classified, this poster develops a classification system for white women and updates the framework of classification of African American narratives to understand conjoined classification of gender and race. The poster will reveal preliminary results that suggest that sites that incorporate African American narratives frequently fail to address the gendered dimensions of these histories while sites that attempt to narrate the history of white women concentrate almost exclusively on white women as spouses or daughters of the homeowner. Sites that do seek to incorporate African American voices and perspectives may be doing so at the expense of the interpretation of white women, suggesting that interpretation is wrongly being conceived as a zero-sum exercise. Importantly, this research also reveals that Native experiences have been not only silenced, but completely erased from, the topography of the sites. Finally, the poster will suggest how historic sites might overcome the limitations of current interpretation through an intersectional and contextualized perspective on the lives of all of the people who inhabited a specific place.

See more of: Poster Session #3
See more of: AHA Sessions