Public archaeology, public history, and race

A lot has changed in public history and archaeology since 1992. And, a lot hasn’t. In 1992, there were very few African American archaeologists. Within that class, even fewer of them were historical archaeologists specializing in African American material culture.

Former slave cabins, Rappahannock County, Va.

Former slave cabins, Rappahannock County, Va.

The early 1990s were a critical time in cultural resource management/public history/historic preservation. Congress had just passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the world watched as archaeologists excavated the graves where more than 400 Africans were buried in downtown Manhattan. The archaeology was being done in advance of federal building construction and the site is now the African Burial Ground National Monument. At the time, debate swirled about what would become of the site and the people buried there.

Now, nearly a quarter of a century later, not only are there more African American historical archaeologists but there are more Native Americans, Latinos, and Asians specializing in the the field and turning their professional expertise inwards on their own pasts.

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The Decatur teardown & the Washington pop-up

Gentrification: a global process locally interpreted.

The Decatur, Georgia, teardown & McMansion:






The Washington, D.C., pop-up:

pop-up-1 pop-up-02

Both create jarring visual discontinuities and both remove affordable housing options from local markets. At least in Washington, there’s a civil debate about pop-ups and local news outlets are covering it from all perspectives. Now that’s refreshing.

© 2015 D.S. Rotenstein

Martin’s bread and circus

The hammers have stopped swinging in Decatur, Ga., and the city’s white middle class hegemons have returned to their McMansions. Another municipal Martin Luther King Service Project has concluded and the back-slapping congratulations have begun. “The 13th annual MLK Service Project is the most ambitious yet,” blogger Dan Whisenhunt wrote. The annual spectacle attracted hundreds of volunteers who made repairs to 31 low-income homes in Decatur’s Oakhurst neighborhood. Continue reading

I am not Charlie ….

I am not Charlie Hebdo but I have experienced the sharp retaliatory violence that comes from speaking truth to power.

In late 2011 I began writing about teardowns and gentrification in Decatur, Ga., an Atlanta suburb. After writing just two articles on the subject a person who lives in the neighborhood about which I was writing confronted the local historical society’s executive director and demanded that I be banned from the institution’s archive. Why? Because he didn’t like what I was writing. Continue reading