The Difficult Plantation Past: Operational and Leadership Mechanisms and Their Impact On Racialized Narratives At Tourist Plantations

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Harris, Jennifer Allison
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Middle Tennessee State University
Southern plantations are laden with historical meaning and cultural symbolism. When these sites of antebellum agriculture are transformed into places toured by the visiting public, these symbols and stories emerge. Though they speak to the experiences of those previously enslaved at the sites, site narratives are primarily influenced by the intentions and decisions of the site owner, management, staff, and docents. This dissertation study examines interviews with all levels of staff and management of these sites gathered by the Transformation of Racialized American Southern Heritage Landscapes project from a sample group of fifteen publicly-toured plantations located in Charleston, South Carolina, the James River Valley in Virginia, and the River Road region of southern Louisiana in order to link academic critiques of plantation narratives in the literature of public history to the mentalities and personal views behind site operational and narrative decisions, ownership and governance models, and allocations of funding and personnel. The dissertation concludes with recommended strategies for aligning the plantation institution’s management with public education that incorporates histories of enslavement throughout the site and provides greater community benefit through accountability to stakeholders and descendants.