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back to index A Brief Ethnography of Magnolia Plantation: Planning for Cane River Creole National Historical Park

Chapter 14: Future Research

Skimming the surfaces of this complex and “recalled community” revealed rich stores of untapped information and deep gaps in existing data on the Cane River area, its black people, the French Creole, and other whites. Ideally, the problem would be addressed by a comprehensive professional and phased area research plan of cultural anthropological and multidisciplinary work. Research would consider the mosaic of Cane River people and cultures along with ties between the town and the countryside and between them and regional and national events. An expansive view is imperative. Neither the Hertzogs’ place nor the Prud’hommes’, the people who lived and worked there, or the larger group of heritage area resources are comprehensible without reference to each other and to more inclusive events, circumstances, and people. By phasing the studies, each would build on the results of earlier work and produce data that informs the design of subsequent work. Teamwork and appropriate professionals working collaboratively with local experts and some continuity in staff would be essential.

Focussing on Magnolia in particular, the National Park Service interpretive programs as well as future planning would benefit from the following studies. They would also produce information for use in the Ethnographic Resource Inventory (ERI). The following are suggested, in priority order (see Directors Order #28 Cultural Resource Management Chapter 10):

  • Ethnographic Overview and Assessment: This basic required comprehensive study informs management about culturally meaningful park resources and the peoples traditionally associated with them. Cultural anthropologists would systematically review, annotate, and assess the available literature, in addition to ethnographically interviewing past and present members of the culturally diverse plantation community about ways of life associated with park resources. They would conduct site visits with representatives of the different ethnic groups and map meaningful and storied places. Ethnographic Resource Inventory data, potential National Register sites, and particular gaps in the available data would be identified.
  • Traditional Use Study: These studies would describe and analyze the plantation’s transformation from a traditional rural company town to an agribusiness. Attention is directed, for example, to changing resource uses for large-scale ranching and agriculture, sharecropping, gardening and residences, religious places, social trails, ferry landings, and so on. The consequences of change for the entire resident community, management as well as tenant workers and tenant farmers, are addressed. Included would be details of decision-making about: allocating space to crops, pastures, residence, recreation, and the like; marketing and non-cash exchanges of surplus; changes in residence patterns and family organization; and changing relationships among plantations and Cloutierville, Derry and other nearby settlements.
  • Ethnographic Landscape: This is a detailed study of ethnographic landscapes within Magnolia, as well as the heritage area. It examines the stories, names, and locales of the cultural and natural features perceived as meaningful by people with traditional associations to Magnolia. This might be combined with either of the above studies or the following one.
  • Ethnohistories and ethnographic oral histories: Cultural anthropologists research each ethnic group to reconstruct its past, transformations in family and community ways of life, and perceptions of inter-ethnic relations. Extended interviews are combined with analyses of published and unpublished information on particular themes. Another theme is the transformation of black, Creole of color, and white communities from the turn of the 20th century to the present, including the creation of new mechanisms for community building or stability. This would include consideration of churches as supporting viable and dynamic communities and as forces in efforts to gain economic, social, and political parity. This might be combined with the above ethnographic study and include the evolution of ethnic terms that local groups use for themselves and others and the relationships between language changes and changes in the political, social, and economic contexts.
  • Social/Cultural Impacts Assessments and baseline studies: Baseline data are needed on the present-day heritage area, including demography, resource allocations, community and ethnicity, and potential for income generation. This multidisciplinary study would be used in periodically evaluating the local impacts of Cane River Creole NHP, the National Heritage Area, and tourism projects. It would also be used to make needed mid-course corrections in land use, zoning, and the transportation facilities, particular tours, and other features of the anticipated tourism industry.

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