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Alderman Co-Authors Book on Plantation Museums

Derek AldermanUniversity of Tennessee Geography Professor Derek Alderman recently co-authored Remembering Enslavement: Reassembling the Southern Plantation Museum, published by the University of Georgia Press.

Remembering Enslavement is one of the most comprehensive analyses of plantation museums. It draws from recent theories in museum and heritage studies and thousands of interviews and surveys with tour guides, visitors, site managers, and owners of the plantation museums. The book demonstrates a new, award-winning method for mapping narratives told on guided tours.  

There is also a focus on how plantation museums should challenge romanticized myths about the Old South that have long ignored the realities of the Black experience. Authors of the book visited and gathered data at 18 plantation museum sites across Louisiana, South Carolina, and Virginia. While finding that some sites are reforming their treatment of slavery, they assert that plantation museums overall still have much work to do to center struggles and contributions of formerly enslaved communities.  

“The book’s great value, in my view, is how it ends by offering practical guidance to plantation museum management on how their heritage tourism sites can do greater justice to Black lives and histories,” Alderman said. 

The book comes from a four-year National Science Foundation grant that began as a comprehensive research agenda focusing on socially responsible approaches to tourism development. Alderman received additional funding from UT that allowed him to involve geography undergraduate and graduate students in fieldwork at museums. 

The book and grant were carried out with the support of Tourism RESET, a multi-university research and outreach initiative founded by Alderman and co-directed by UT Assistant Professor Stephanie Benjamin and Alana Dillette of San Diego State University. The organization takes aim at racial inequalities in the tourism industry and focuses on supporting the needs and activism of marginalized travelers.

Moving forward, Alderman is focusing on the politics of historical narration at presidential plantation museums. His research team recently completed data collection at lands previously owned by George Washinton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. 

“While some of the presidential museums are trying to do a better job of discussing slavery, there are still clearly limits at which these sites are willing to talk about the brutal realities of slavery and fully recognize the histories of enslaved Black Americans—especially if it detracts from the heroic status and reputation of the Founding Fathers,” Alderman said.

Story by Sarah Berry