African American Field Schools

Johns Island Community Field School: Documenting the Built Environment of a Gullah Geechee Community

Our field school will focus upon researching and documenting public buildings and their role within the twentieth-century history of John’s Island - particularly the Jim Crow and Civil Rights periods. Over the course of two field seasons, participants will work on four buildings - Moving Star Hall (ca. 1917), one of the few remaining examples of Praise Houses left in the Lowcountry; the Progressive Club (1963), which served as the site for a Civil-Rights period Citizenship School and community center; Hebron Presbyterian Church (1865), built by the local African-American community at the end of the Civil War; and Promise Land Elementary School, where prominent Civil Rights figure Septima Clark taught Esau Jenkins during Jim Crow. In addition to university-affiliated faculty providing hands-on training in historic preservation documentation and research methods (archival research, measured drawing, photography, laser scanning, photogrammetry, and GIS), the field school will include community members as key educators to address the local history of the Johns Island community and the evolution of the local cultural and historic landscape. The field school will also provide community partners with important information that will be used for managing these important buildings, seeking additional funding for preservation, and advocating for government policy changes aimed at mitigating threats to their tangible and intangible heritage.

Recognizing that historic preservation and public history have often failed to invest in the recruitment and preparation of first-generation students and/or ethno-racially diverse scholars and practitioners, our field school will offer stipends and zero-cost tuition to make the experience more financially accessible, and our team will strive to employ culturally-responsive pedagogical approaches. We will also focus our recruiting efforts on attracting participants with cultural/historical connections to the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor (GGCHC), as well as adult residents of Johns Island and adjacent communities within the GGCHC. Residents will also be invited and compensated to participate in one-day workshops with topics including building documentation, preservation advocacy, and preservation/heritage careers.

The field school will be hosted through a partnership among the Clemson University and College of Charleston graduate program in historic preservation (MSHP), the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture (ARC) at the College of Charleston (CofC), the Progressive Club (PC), and the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission (GGCHCC). The field school leadership team includes: Dr. Jon Marcoux (Director and Associate Professor, MSHP), Amalia Leifeste (Associate Professor, MSHP), Dr. Tamara Butler (Executive Director, ARC, Associate Dean of Strategic Planning & Community Engagement, CofC), Abe Jenkins, Jr. (Board Member, PC), and Victoria Smalls (Executive Director, GGCHCC).

Black Life in Bellevue: Documenting African American Cultural Landscape Along the Chesapeake Bay

During July 2022 and 2023, Washington College’s Center for Environment and Society will partner with the Village of Bellevue, Maryland to conduct field schools aimed at using the venue’s cultural landscape to advance historical understanding and cultural conservation of an African American community whose aspirations and development were shaped by the Chesapeake estuarine environment. A place shrouded in the immediate legacy of Maryland Eastern Shore natives Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, Bellevue stands as a symbol of the quest for Black empowerment following the Civil War. From this locale, African American men and women availed themselves of the Chesapeake’s rich marine resources by working its waters, preparing the catch for market, building and using some of the region’s signature watercraft, and, in time, becoming one of the few places on the bay where Black-owned seafood processing companies were established. The places and spaces of Bellevue—its houses, businesses, churches, boats, landing sites, and streets—were culturally attuned to the Chesapeake’s environmental rhythms, a history and expression of an African American community’s material life dating to the seventeenth/eighteenth centuries and which found new voice and empowerment from the late nineteenth through twentieth centuries.

Led by field school directors Michael Chiarappa and Janet Sheridan and community coordinators Drs. Dennis and Mary DeShields, students will be immersed in Bellevue’s historical/cultural resources and its contemporary cultural life. Residing and working in Bellevue for four weeks, students will learn the skills required to document cultural landscapes—measuring, drawing, and photographing buildings, using historic documents and visual materials, and conducting oral histories with longtime residents. Complementing these approaches, students will be introduced to new methodologies that employ geographic information systems (mapping), computer-aided recording and visual presentation, and other digital technology that serves to gather and utilize information that can be used to present Bellevue’s history. The materials generated through these exercises will be used to create history exhibits and public programming for the Bellevue Passage Museum, as well as serving as resources for African American heritage tourism in the area. In addition to these outcomes, field school exercises will contribute to the design of a web-based presence for the museum and the community’s wider history, along with providing greater vision for how such documentary work can facilitate cultural conservation and community identity in Bellevue. Completing their examination of the mix of cultural landscape and local history, students and field school staff will join the curatorial vision of longtime Bellevue resident William DeShields. Colonel DeShields’s (retired U.S. Army) lifetime commitment to collecting Bellevue’s historical materials will impart on students the power of community-driven initiatives and will give them valuable insight on why their curatorial care and use are critical in advancing a fuller understanding of the places and spaces that animated Bellevue’s African American life.

Slave House Exploration and Evidence Tracing Field School (SHEET)

The Slave House Exploration and Evidence Tracing Field School (SHEET) is an initiative of Saving Slave Houses’ Pharsalia Plantation Co-Stewardship Project which is a unique project that encourages and facilitates stewardship and partnership-building relationships between descendants of enslaved communities and descendants of enslaver families from Pharsalia Plantation in Nelson County, Virginia. A multigenerational group of community and descendant participants and student field school interns will explore the intersections between the built environment, history, humanities, community, and storytelling. The site will be studied and documented through four lenses: people, landscape, details, and archaeology. Participants and interns will also learn about the importance of oral histories as a form documentation and interpretation.

Through partnerships with programs, organizations, and companies that have significant impact on how history is documented, communicated, distributed, and understood (e.g., Historic American Buildings Survey, Trimble, and History Before Us), participants and interns will learn the skills necessary to use data they collect both from the field and their own research as effective storytelling tools – ones that engage and challenge the next generation of historians.

The Core Team members of SHEET (Jobie Hill, Star Reams, Nina Polley, and Frederick Murphy) represent a strong knowledge base and multi-discipline training in the fields of architecture, anthropology, oral histories, archaeology, historic preservation, storytelling, and African American history. Together, they formulate insightful, representative and evidence-based interpretations through broad, inclusive knowledge.

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