Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Power of People

Session 42: Public History and the Legacy of Slavery Or as Cheryl LaRoche stated—we should rather say the Legacy of the Enslaved
Moderator: Stephanie Grauman Wolf

Presenters: James T. Campbell, Brown University, Rhode Island
Cheryl Janifer LaRoche, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland
Sharon Ann Holt, Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities, MARCH, New Jersey (unfortunately not there—due to American Airlines—read by Stevie Wolf)

Stevie Wolf eloquently put that the interpretation of slavery is one dealing with “sacred ground and profane ground” and one that has complex negotiations and complex histories. Shan Holt’s paper on the President’s House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, James T. Campbell’s talk of his research on Brown University’s history and connection to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, and Cheryl LaRoche’s discussion of the African Burial Ground in New York City, all showed that the complex dialogue on the legacy of the enslaved can, and more importantly is what the public wants and now even insists upon. This complex dialogue can be described as Shan Holt did in her paper as an ‘unwrapping’ of the ‘gift-wrapped’ interpretation of history that has existed in the interpretation of sites. These were wonderful examples of how James Campbell described as “retrospective justice”, people taking the past and using it to work out issues of social justice in the present. I almost think I attended this session just in time, for I had begun to doubt how much ‘public’ voice is actually in the site that I have worked at and began to find myself doubting what kind of affect history and sites can have on riling the crowd to come to the cause—whatever that cause may be. I think this session was a needed reminder for me, that history can really affect the present, and more importantly can be initiated by the people for the people.

Kelly Britt

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