CONVERSATIONS ABOUT THE PAST
Levi Jordan Plantation
Direction of Proposed Research
I submitted an expanded version of the following report in 1997, just prior to being registered as a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge. The following excerpt describes the background and goals of the project as well as a full list of references. If you like you can also read a short essay I wrote that same year, entitled Truth Claims, Conversations and Borderlands: Archaeology and the Internet.
This Ph.D. project is supervised by Professor Ian Hodder at the University of Cambridge. For information on Professor Hodder's work in computer-mediated communication, go to his ‚atalhšyŸk web site at http://catal.arch.cam.ac.uk/catal/catal.html.
Sections of the report that are not included here (which I will share information about on request) include the following:
Drop me a line at email@example.com if you'd like more information on any of this. I know the following report is sort of academic-ish, but, then, it was written for academics! Enjoy!
am interested in examining how hypertext and hypermedia
(de-centered, non-linear, multinodal textual forms) can
be effectively used to publicly present archaeological
and historical information that is "sensitive"
(e.g., potentially contested by local or larger
communities). One premise of this work will be that, in
order to deal sensitively with contested information,
public presentations of archaeological knowledge should
provide opportunities for people to conduct critical
dialogues with each other, with the producers of
scientific information, and with "the past".
This study assumes that public archaeological
presentations have a didactic role; that it is possible
to "learn from" the past, and that doing so can
enlighten and enrich people's lives in the present. It
also assumes that archaeological interpretations,
especially those which could affect people's lives in the
present, should be conducted in a collaborative,
This work is informed by archaeological and ethnographic research already undertaken in Brazoria County, Texas; specifically, at the Levi Jordan Plantation, which was one of the largest sugar plantations in the 19th century Southern United States. Most archaeological and historical research at this site has concentrated on the lives of the slaves and tenants of the plantation (Brown 1991, Brown 1993, Brown 1995). Excavation has focused on the "slave quarter" area of the site, located about 100 yards behind the extant plantation house (which is still owned by the planter's descendants). The quarters were occupied from 1848 until about 1888-1892, first by slaves, then by people who stayed on as tenant farmers and sharecroppers.
Archaeological and historical research has shed new light on the lives of both planters and tenants in this plantation community. This new light has revealed a great deal about how African-American residents survived, and flourished, in the face of an oppressive social and political environment; many "positive" stories, at odds with stereotypical views of slavery, can now be told about community resistance, creativity, survival, and continuity. However, it has also revealed information about planter life which had been forgotten by some, and, if not forgotten, unacknowledged by others. For example, the quarters appear to have been abandoned suddenly in the late nineteenth century, and the racially-charged climate of the community, and of the historical period, seems to have been a direct cause of this abandonment. Research also indicates that some ancestors of the present owners were active participants in the oppression of their African-American tenants, and of other African-Americans in the larger community of Brazoria County.
Therefore, the divisions of the past are still very much a part of the social and political present in Brazoria, Texas, and preliminary efforts to publicly interpret the site have already revealed several areas of potential conflict - not only between members of different ethnic groups, but also between different factions of white planter descendants (McDavid 1995a, McDavid 1995b, McDavid , McDavid and Babson ). Despite this somewhat volatile social and cultural context, many black and white descendants, as well as other community members, have participated in previous research and expressed a willingness to support this proposed project. Some have expressed sentiments such as "learning about the past could be used to heal the wounds of the past", and "forgetting about what happened here would be like denying the Holocaust". Others do not want to "dredge up the pain of the past", but, rather, to "move on", and to "concentrate on the positive parts of history" (McDavid ).
The specific objective is to see if the non-linear, non hierarchical environment of hypertext is capable of accommodating and giving voice to multiple, contested understandings of both the past and the present. A major objective will be to see if computer-mediated presentation can provide a forum to discuss sensitive, volatile historical topics openly and freely between family groups, between people of different race and class, and between academics and local community members. One theme that ran through the earlier research was that children's learning should be the focus of any public interpretations; therefore, working with children will be an important component of my fieldwork. However, I will also work with adults, and have already identified several groups to tap for adult participation. For example, I have made contact with members of five local churches that were founded immediately following the Civil War. The founding members of these churches included many people who lived on the Jordan Plantation as slaves and tenants, and their descendants still form a large percentage of current memberships. In addition, I have contacts with several local history museums and business groups, and many members have exhibited keen interest in this project.
REFERENCES FROM EXPANDED VERSION OF THIS REPORT
Barglow, R. 1994. The Crisis of the Self in the Age of Information: Computers, Dolphins, and Dreams. London: Routledge.
Barrett, E. Editor. 1988. Text, ConText, and HyperText: Working with and for the Computer. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Barrett, E. Editor. 1989a. The Society of Text: Hypertext, Hypermedia, and the Social Construction of Information. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Barrett, E. 1989b. "Thought and Language in a Virtual Environment," in The Society of Text: Hypertext, Hypermedia, and the Social Construction of Information. Edited by E. Barrett. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Barrett, E. Editor. 1992. Sociomedia: Multimedia, Hypermedia, and the Social Construction of Knowledge. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Bass, A. B. 1991. "Computers in the classroom" in Computers in the Human Context: Information Technology, Productivity, and People. Edited by T. Forester. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Brown, K. L. 1991. From Slavery to Wage Labor Tenancy: Continuity in an African-American Community. University of Houston.
Brown, K. L. 1993. "A Brief History of the Levi Jordan plantation." Antebellum Texas, Brazos Style, The Center for the Arts and Sciences, Lake Jackson, Texas, 1993.
Brown, K. L. 1995. "Material Culture & Community Structure: The Slave and Tenant Community at Levi Jordan's Plantation, 1848-1892," in Working Toward Freedom: Slave Society and Domestic Economy in the American South. Edited by J. Larry E. Hudson, pp. 95-118. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.
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Kirk, T. 1993. "Space, Subjectivity, Power and Hegemony: Megaliths and Long Mounds in Earlier Neolithic Brittany," in Interpretative Archaeology. Edited by C. Tilley. Oxford: Berg.
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Laurillard, D. 1993. Rethinking university teaching: A framework for the effective use of educational technology. London: Routledge.
McDavid, C. 1995a. "The Importance of Archaeology in the Preservation of African American Heritage: The Levi Jordan Plantation Project," African Americans & Heritage Preservation: Practical Strategies for Livable Communites; Sponsored by the Texas Historical Commission, Houston, Texas, 1995a.
McDavid, C. 1995b. "Many Pasts and Many Presents: Collaboration in Planning the Public Interpretation of the Archaeology of the Levi Jordan Plantation." Southeast Preservation Conference, Birmingham, Alabama, 1995b.
McDavid, C. 1996. The Levi Jordan Plantation: From Archaeological Interpretation to Public Interpretation. Master of Arts, University of Houston.
McDavid, C. . Descendants, Decisions, and Power: The Public Interpretation of the Archaeology of the Levi Jordan Plantation. Historical Archaeology .
McDavid, C., and D. Babson. Editors. . In the Realm of Politics: Prospects for Public Participation in African-American Archaeology: The Society for Historical Archaeology.
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‹ Carol McDavid 1998