Interpreting Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014)I posted this announcement over at the Tracing Center earlier this week.

We’re pleased to announce the release of the Tracing Center’s new book, Interpreting Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).

“This seminal work … will make a significant impact.”

— Rex M. Ellis, Associate Director, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Interpreting Slavery, edited by Kristin Gallas and James DeWolf Perry, is the most visible product to date of a three-year Tracing Center project to develop and disseminate best practices in slavery interpretation. This project has also included surveys of the field, workshops at historic sites and museums, conference presentations and instructional sessions, as well as additional publications.

The book is a collaboration with seven leading public historians with deep expertise in navigating the interpretation of slavery:

  • Dina A. Bailey, National Center for Civil and Human Rights
  • Patricia Brooks, National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Richard C. Cooper, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
  • Conny Graft, Conny C. Graft Research and Evaluation
  • Linnea Grim, Monticello
  • Katherine D. Kane, Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
  • Nicole A. Moore, Museum Educator and Historic Consultant

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DeWolf family treeWhile I usually blog at the Tracing Center these days, I thought this post I wrote today might be worth sharing with readers here, too. Please feel free to offer any thoughts below, or comment here.

When I sat down this weekend to watch last Thursday’s episode of “The Office,” I was quite surprised to discover that the plot largely revolved around the revelation that Andy Bernard, like me, is descended from slave traders.

As you might imagine, as someone who has wrestled with this family legacy, and who cares a great deal about seeing the public to terms with the legacy of slavery, I had mixed feelings watching this subject being addressed in a half-hour comedy show.

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This is new.

In my work, I frequently encounter push-back to the effect that talking about the history and legacy of slavery and race is counter-productive, because this history is now irrelevant and discussing it only encourages racial divisions and a mentality of victimh0od. A cursory glance at the facts shows this logic to be fatally flawed, but this view is nevertheless quite common.

To my knowledge, however, this is the first time that anyone has proclaimed that I, and what I do, are “sheer evil.”

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Record in National Archives of Cuba of James D'Wolf's slave ship Jane, captained by William MunroAs I returned to the U.S. from Havana last night, the Associated Press released a story on our visit, “US family finds traces of slave-trade past in Cuba.”

The article has been running prominently in the U.S. and abroad, making the A.P.’s daily top stories list as their third-listed international story in the world.

I spent ten days in Cuba with Katrina Browne and Tulaine Marshall, and the article focuses on our visit Sunday to the site of the Mount Hope coffee plantation owned by my fifth-great grandfather, James D’Wolf.

The article, written by the A.P.’s Will Weissert, is quite impressive, and I’m particularly pleased with the way it ends:

While both she and Perry have worked to uncover their family’s role, they say no Americans – even those whose descendants came to the U.S. after slavery was abolished – should feel unaffected. The early U.S. economy so relied on slavery that it fueled a boom, making America an attractive destination for immigrants ….

“None of us,” Perry said, “are untouched by the legacy of slavery today.”

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Slavery in New England was brutal and lasted, in its official form, for 150 years. Enslavement greatly enriched the colonists and, later, citizens of New England, and only died out gradually and fitfully.

This is the proposition of an op-ed appearing in tomorrow’s Boston Globe, entitled “New England’s scarlet ‘S’ for slavery,” in honor of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The op-ed suggests that the northern states lag behind the South in acknowledging the difficult truths of race buried in our past, and that we cannot skip this step if we are to make progress on race relations.

The essay is written by C. S. Manegold, who is the author of Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North (2009), published last month by Princeton University Press.

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As I previewed last month, the Massachusetts state legislature held a hearing yesterday on state representative Byron Rushing’s proposed slavery-era disclosure law.

Update: Governor Deval Patrick has commented that while he hasn’t read the bill, he agrees that “we have some unfinished work about some injustices that goes back generations.”

H 3148 would make Massachusetts the fifth state to enact a law intended to pry open corporate records on their involvement in slavery and the slave trade. As I’ve indicated in the blog posts I’ve linked to above, I think these laws offer significant benefits in addressing our nation’s pervasive amnesia regarding the centrality of slavery to our history and its relevance to our present circumstances.

The extent of the nation’s historical amnesia over slavery, particularly in the northern states, is strikingly illustrated by yesterday’s Associated Press story in advance of the hearing.

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Earlier this year, I wrote about Massachusetts State Representative Byron Rushing’s proposed slavery-era disclosure law. At that time, I indicated that Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development should hold a public hearing later in the year.

The committee has now scheduled a public hearing for Monday, October 5 at 1:00pm at which testimony will be heard on Rushing’s bill, H 3148. The hearing will be held at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester.

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Breaking the Silence, Beating the DrumToday is the United Nation’s International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

In commemoration of the event this year, the U.N. has organized a series of programs this week, in New York and around the world.

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Brown University announced plans yesterday to build a memorial to commemorate Brown’s historic connections to the slave trade, possibly in Bristol or neighboring Newport, Rhode Island.

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Boubacar Joseph NdiayeThis is a tip of the hat to Boubacar Joseph Ndiaye, the long-time curator of the Maison des Esclaves (House of Slaves) in Senegal, who has passed away in Dakar at the age of 86.

Ndiaye, who as a French colonial fought for France in WWII, devoted the last forty years of his life to preserving the memory of the slave trade on Gorée Island.

Hamady Bocoum, director of cultural heritage in Senegal’s culture ministry, said of Ndiaye:

He was the main architect of the defence of the memory of the Atlantic slave trade, the man most fervent and unrelenting against any revisionism.

According to Agence France-Presse, Ndiaye would often say that he intended to speak about the history of the slave trade “all my life.”

His visitors included Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, and Bill Clinton, who famously expressed regret for American participation in the slave trade while visiting Gorée Island.

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