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Plantation Tourism & Slavery

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Derek H. Alderman
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In the southeastern United States, operators of plantation museums have traditionally engaged in a selective and romanticised remembrance of the antebellum past that has regrettably silenced and marginalised the historical experiences and struggles of enslaved African people. More recently, some plantation managers have sought to engage in the ‘memory-work’ using artistic practices to reconstruct and interpret slavery heritage for visitors. Our study explores museum theatre as a form of memory-work and suggests that theatrical performances of the memories of enslavement are an increasingly important but not yet fully understood strategy for recovering, embodying, and representing a different and hopefully more just narrative about enslaved Africans. We visit three plantation museums where managers hosted a theatrical performance of enslaved oral histories and explore the motivations and experiences of managers and the director of the slave performance. Realising the power and efficacy of theatrical performance as memory-work practice requires understanding how the management of the interpretation process can be difficult. We delve into the emotion-laden challenges confronting slavery-related museum theatre development at the North Carolina plantations and discuss the creative response formulated at the sites to help visitors work through unexpected feelings and understandings about the past.