Researching the Interpretation of Slavery in Louisiana

Research Trip 2015 MapJames Madison’s Montpelier is in the midst of expanding its interpretation of slavery thanks to a generous gift from David Rubenstein.  To explore potential interpretive techniques and content that could be adopted, we conducted a three-day research trip to visit a wide range of sites in Louisiana. Staff had visited most of the sites in Virginia, and so we sought a location that most of us had not visited but had a large concentration of historic sites that interpreted African American history before emancipation. Because the experience helped us question assumptions, think more deeply about outcomes, and expand our catalog of ideas, I’m sharing our itinerary with you to encourage you to visit. Our research trip started with two days to make a big loop through Baton Rouge and New Iberia to visit several historic sites and finished with a day in New Orleans. In future blog posts, I hope to discuss some of the sites in more detail.

Day 1: Whitney Plantation, Laura Plantation, and Oak Alley.  Our initial plans also included Evergreen Plantation but the timing didn’t work out, even though these sites are within ten miles of each other.

Day 2: West Baton Rouge Museum in Port Allen (near Baton Rouge) and Shadows-on-the-Teche in New Iberia.

Day 3: Walking tour of African life in the French Quarter with Hidden History Tours and a visit to the sprawling National World War II Museum (formerly called the D-Day Museum).

The itinerary is ambitious and doesn’t allow much time for lingering, but it was a rich diversity of sites and interpretive experiences that I can easily recommend to others. Our complete itinerary is available with more details (including some places we weren’t able to visit but were good candidates). Thanks especially to Ashley Rogers at Whitney Plantation, Julia Rose at the West Baton Rouge Museum, and Pat Kahle at Shadows on the Teche for their hospitality.