Toward a Sensory Ethnography of Plantation Museums: Emotional Labor, Affect, and Place-Making At McLeod Plantation Historic Site

Authors: Emma Walcott-Wilson*, University of Tennessee
Topics: Tourism Geography, Cultural Geography, Qualitative Research
Keywords: plantation tourism, tour guides, emotional labor, sensory ethnography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Plaza Court 7, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Narrative formation at plantation house museums is often seen as an hourglass, with the people-in-power (management, owners, textual resources) at the top and the visitors at the bottom receiving the information. The in-between space is where more-than-human geographies come into play, the interaction with physical space as formative of stories and affect. Guides at historic sites navigate and interpret the interface of space and place and have been largely absent in research about plantation tourism. Tour guide experiences are important to study both because they influence how people understand history and because tour guides are a large and under-researched population of laborers in a tourist economy. One way to unlock these experiences is with a closer examination of their embodied and emplaced roles at the site where they work. This includes the banal experience of work and the exceptional encounters with broader narratives of history. These are inseparable elements of daily life for guides at McLeod Plantation historic site. The memories of guides dovetail with the memory embedded in the objects and narratives at the site, their sense of belonging and/or alienation are integral to the construction of stories they tell to visitors and the way they express these stories is shaped by their daily encounters with other objects, bodies, and auras of place. In this paper I explore the daily lived experiences of guides at McLeod, how they perceive their labor and its affective consequences through their own words and participant-captured images

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