Researchers to analyze depiction of slavery at plantation sites

Chuck Bednar for – Your Universe Online

As Martin Luther King Jr. day nears, and people all over the country flock to see the Golden Globe Award-winning motion picture Selma, a professor from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville is examining plantations to get a better perspective on the history of race in the US.

That professor, Derek Alderman, has received a $62,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study how the representation of slavery at tourism sites in the American south is changing. Alderman, head of the university’s geography department, will use his findings to understand the context of the ongoing debate on race and racism within the US.

“Plantations are one of the widely recognized symbols of the South and play an important role in the modern interpretation of Southern history,” he explained in a statement. “The sites have traditionally remained silent about the lives and struggles of the enslaved community. But, recent evidence indicates they are increasingly bringing the struggles front and center.”

Alderman believes that this information has not been adequately analyzed, adding that such information “provides a lens to explore the manner and extent to which Southern plantations are incorporating the history of slavery, the challenges they face in doing justice to that history, and how visitors interpret the information and respond.”

He and his colleagues plan to visit various plantation sites in Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia. They will interview plantation owner/operators and docents. They will analyze the content of the guided tours, as well as survey, interview and observe tourists. Their study will be the first to look at multiple stakeholders, plantation sites and management styles.

“Achieving civil rights and racial reconciliation in America requires discussing the central but controversial place that slavery has in the nation’s history,” Alderman said. “Antebellum plantation tourism sites should play a key role in advancing those discussions rather than glossing over or whitewashing the past.”

The findings of the project, which is part of the multi-university Race, Ethnicity, and Social Equity in Tourism (RESET) initiative, will be disseminated through a website, he and colleagues from the  University of Southern Mississippi, Texas Tech University, the University of Mary Washington and Louisiana State University explained.

The RESET initiative is seeking greater social responsibility in the representation of African American heritage in tourism, according to the researchers behind this new study. It is a joint project of the Center for Sustainable Tourism at East Carolina University, the Department of Geography at the University of Tennessee, and the Department of Political Science, International Development, and International Affairs at the University of Southern Mississippi.

“One of the goals of RESET is to serve as a place for professional collaboration and exchange between scholars who are doing work in the areas of race, ethnicity, and social equity in tourism,” the initiative’s website said. “Establishing this network of like minded scholars will facilitate the holding of conferences, joint projects and publications, and the connection of research professionals with community and industry groups.”

Other projects currently being researched by members of RESET include a profile of African-American travelers, including their motivations for visiting different locations, their trip planning practices and their travel patterns; and an analysis of the historical narratives being presented at Civil Rights heritage tourism sites, as well as how they are interpreted by visitors.


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