Interpretation for Archeologists   6. Issues of Sensitivity   Distance Learning

Sensitivity to African American Cultural Traditions

(photo) Portait photograph of Mary McLeod Bethune.

The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site in Washington, DC commemorates Mary McLeod Bethune, who worked tirelessly to influence legislation affecting African Americans and women. (NPS)

The archeology of African American people has included particularly the studies of African American cultural group diversity, the African Diaspora, and slavery. This archeology has grown rapidly over the past few decades and is a major interest in American archeology. In addition to research, many social, political, and intellectual forces have spurred the growth of African American archeology. These forces include: increasing numbers of African American archeologists with interest in their own heritage; black activism; passage of historic preservation legislation; archeological interest in immigrant ethnic groups; and the increased use of archeology, ethnography, and ethnohistory in public interpretation of historic sites such as urban settings and plantations (Thomas 1998:531).

Effective interpretation of archeological resources associated with African Americans depends on sensitivity to public emotions about and understanding of issues such as slavery and racism. Evidence of these issues in the archeological record presents educational opportunities for archeologists and interpreters. African American contributions to American history are also well documented in the archeological record and serve equally to educate visitors. African American social traditions, religious practices, and oral histories are rich resources for archeologists and interpreters developing research designs and educational programs.

Case Studies

Our Shared History: African-American Heritage
This web site features many exciting and innovative sites related to African American heritage available across the NPS web site,

African-American Households from Manassas National Battlefield Park
This web site describes how archeological excavations revealed a diversity of cultures and social classes that lived in what is now Manassas National Battlefield Park before and after the Civil War, particularly the enslaved and free African American community members.

Distance Learning course on African American history and ethnography
This web site provides an ethnographic perspective on African American heritage. (12/4/07)

Archeology at the Robinson House
The Robinson house survived the first and second battles of Manassas during the American Civil War. As African Americans, the Robinson family found themselves embroiled in the struggles of the nation before, during, and after the war. Come explore how archeological research, architectural studies, and oral history reveal new insights into the changing lifeways of free African Americans. (12/4/07)

Using What You Know: Assess Your Knowedge (#7 of 10)

(icon) A ranger's hat.
  • Using what you have learned about archeology, how would you facilitate connections for modern populations to highlight the relevance of archeological work to modern life contexts?
  • What controversial or sensitive issues impact interpretation at your park? How might you use archeology as a medium to address a history of sensitive issues? As a medium for including traditionally under-represented populations?