Archaeology Brown Bag: Jennifer Saunders, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

Friday, March 17, 2023
4 pm | Brooks Hall Commons

From ‘Enslavement’ to ‘Empowerment’ and What Comes After: Plantation Futures on a Palimpsestic Landscape 

The idea of the landscape as a palimpsest, where traces of a former version can be read under the present one, came out of Paleolithic archaeology, where thousands of years of human activity must be discerned through low-density artifact scatters. In 2013’s “Plantation Futures,” Black geographer Katherine McKittrick describes the plantation landscape as a “meaningful conceptual palimpsest” that underpins the association between Blackness, geographic othering, and dispossession. McKittrick’s “plantation futures,” however, are ultimately hopeful – or rather, McKittrick is hopeful about the potential to avoid what would seem to be an inevitable outcome of continued oppression. In Powhatan County, Virginia, St. Emma Military Academy and St. Francis de Sales School, two Catholic-run boarding schools for African American and Native American students, were housed on the former grounds of Belmead Plantation – what one stakeholder group described as going “from ‘enslavement’ to ‘empowerment.’” How did living on this palimpsestic landscape shape students’ experiences? Did lingering plantation logic inform their daily practices?  And now that St. Emma and St Francis de Sales are closed and the property under private ownership, will plantation logic relegate them to obscurity based on their Blackness, or can archaeology help unbind this Black future from the plantation?