As a life long resident of the South, I have grown up surrounded by historic house museums. The majority of these are plantation homes, remnants of the Antebellum slave system. There are a number of publications that deal with the absence of slave history in the “big house” of plantation museums. However, I have seen less work regarding the interpretation of slave life outside of the big house.
Very few slave structures have survived into the 21st century, owing to their construction and also a lack of preservation concern. Typically when I have taken a tour, exhibits or tour guides have alluded to slavery outside the big house, usually with “there were slave cabins there” or “slaves worked in fields over there”, but this doesn’t really give an idea of the world slaves occupied outside of the main house.
So to conclude, I was really excited and intrigued by this unique way to give visitors an idea of a slave space. At the Hampton Plantation State Park in SC, the slave cabins on site are currently being excavated by archaeologists. This has given the site a nice outline of the slave cabin. To help visitors visualize the archaeological site into a living space, the park installed a glass etching of what the slave cabin would have looked like. When standing in the right place, the etching gives the visitor an idea of the size and scale of the slave cabin. Interesting way to get visitors thinking and also keeps the site a more unique look than a traditional reconstruction project.
Hampton Plantation also has extant rice fields which provide a unique possibility for agricultural interpretation. I plan to write about it in the future, after I have given some thought to how agriculture has been interpreted at other historic sites I have visited.
What do you guys think? Have you seen historic sites that interpret slavery outside of the big house? What did you think about it?