Authors: Mary Biggs*, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
Topics: Cultural Geography, Landscape, United States
Keywords: Memory, Landscape, Cultural Geography, Political Ecology, American South, Heritage Preservation
Session Type: Paper
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: 8217, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded
Protected Civil War battlefields, preserved plantation homes, reconstructed frontier towns: all invite visitors to immerse themselves in specific moments, and specific versions, of American Southern history. These sites offer escape, education, and entertainment; importantly, they also offer physical environments in which to experience these histories, marking historical authenticity even as they define it. I conceptualize living history museums as sites where affective politics of memory are rescaled for individual consumption, transforming cultural memory back into lived experiences through emotional, embodied encounters with the past. Costumed interpreters, period-specific buildings and materials, and landscapes curated to evoke specific imaginings of historical space all play a part in performances of authenticity that are utilized to construct, naturalize, and perpetuate racialized identities and senses of belonging in the American South. In this paper, I explore the physical environments of Southern living history museums through participant observation and research at three North Carolina sites. To interrogate these spaces in which memory is both preserved and produced is to interrogate the histories memorialized and experienced through these spaces, examining the ways in which Southern landscapes and Southern whiteness are created through and within each other. The management and construction of landscape at living history sites offer entry points to analyze the emotional construction of memory, embodied experiences of authenticity, and the ways in which land management is utilized to physically make space for certain bodies, identities, and histories while erasing, negating, or devaluing others.