The objective of this research is to contribute to the theorization of the transformation of racialized southern heritage landscapes within the United States. Long dominated by white-centric conceptions of identity, social actors, and groups in the South have traditionally ignored, misrepresented, and trivialized African-American contributions and struggles within the region’s landscape iconography and tourism.
This historical marginalization has been acutely evident at antebellum plantation tourism sites, which have been decidedly silent about the lives and struggles on the enslaved community. Recent evidence indicates southern heritage landscapes, including plantation sites, are increasingly bringing African-American struggles front and center within the representation of the history of the South and the United States. This transformation is a complex and sometimes dissonant process open to multiple and contradictory constructions and interpretations by plantation owners/managers, tour guides/docents, and the tourists/visitors themselves.
The researchers propose to examine the processes and politics of incorporating slavery into plantation landscapes, recognizing that these landscapes consist of built (material), textual (representational), and performative (bodily) aspects that can advance and significantly affect the production and consumption of public memories of the enslaved. Building upon a recent substantial pilot study, the research team will conduct extensive mixed-method field work, visiting several plantation sites in three major southern tourism regions (Louisiana, Georgia-South Carolina, and Virginia) to interview plantation owners/operators and docents, survey and interview tourists, and carry out participant observation and content analysis of guided tours of the plantation landscape. This research provides a lens into exploring the manner and extent to which southern plantations are moving toward an incorporation of the history of slavery into the memorial landscape of the nation and region, the factors motivating that incorporation of enslavement, and the role the landscape plays in narrating these traditionally marginalized histories.
The specific research focus of the RESET Initiative will always be a work in progress and actively (re)shaped by trends in the tourism industry, the needs of minority travelers, and the intellectual paradigms of tourism research.