Does race matter? Most Americans would say that it does, but only in certain contexts, such as workplace diversity or the 2012 presidential election. In her recently published book, St. Mary’s College of Maryland Professor Julia King argues that in fact race plays a role in all things American. “Archaeology, Narrative, and the Politics of the Past,” released this summer by the University of Tennessee Press, focuses on how the many ubiquitous and seemingly apolitical historic sites and places shape the ways in which Americans understand and think about race. Race, King found, has played and continues to play a foundational role in the shaping of both the American landscape and American memory.
Using a variety of sources and disciplinary approaches throughout the book– archaeological, historical, architectural, literary, and art-historical – King hones her arguments through a close analysis of several important historic sites in rural Maryland, including Historic St. Mary’s City, the museum at the site of the Maryland colony’s first capital; Point Lookout State Park, located on a former prison for Confederate soldiers; and the state’s many tobacco plantation landscapes. According to King, these sites have been used to ‘prove’ an America of democratic origins, civil rights, and religious freedom, while simultaneously ignoring or erasing the vestiges of indigenous histories and histories of slavery.
“Beginning soon after the Revolution and continuing today, Americans have assembled a consensus history through both storytelling and landscape, especially rural landscape,” said King. “These ideas shape how Americans understand their past and underpin a growing national discussion about the role of the rural American landscape in an increasingly globalized community. At the core of all of these ‘places’ sits race: the great challenge and the great hope of America.”
King holds a doctorate in American Civilization from the University of Pennsylvania, a master’s degree in anthropology from Florida State University, and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and history from the College of William and Mary. She has more than two decades of experience as an archaeologist, researcher, author, and educator. King has served on the boards of Preservation Maryland, the Sotterley Plantation Foundation, the Council for Maryland Archaeology, and the Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology. She is a past president of the Society for Historical Archaeology. King has received fellowships from Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks, the Virginia Historical Society, and the Henry Francis DuPont Winterthur Museum, as well as major grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
“Archaeology, Narrative, and the Politics of the Past” is available on Amazon.com