Discoveries About Slave Plantation in Dominica

Mark Hauser, Assistant Professor at Northwestern University, visited St. Mary’s College on Nov. 7 as part of the Department of Anthropology’s Distinguished Scholar Program. His lecture focused on archaeological research he conducted in Dominica in the Caribbean, which he titled, “Slavery’s Material Record: A Comparison of Everyday Life at Two Plantation Settlements in Dominica, West Indies.”

Along with his lecture, he also visited some of the anthropology classes in order to speak further on his study and answer questions that the anthropology students might have had.

“Mark has been extremely productive as a scholar,” said Interim Chair of the Anthropology Department and Professor Bill Roberts as he introduced Hauser before his lecture. “He’s published widely and reviewed widely in a number of anthropology and archaeology journals.”

Hauser’s study focuses primarily on archaeological remnants of material cultures from the past and using his data in order to better understand the culture of slavery in Dominica’s past. His lecture focused mainly on the two different plantations of Bois Cotlette and Sugar Loaf.

These sugar plantations were homes to many slaves and Hauser’s goal is to better understand these sub-cultures by piecing together the archaeological data that they have left behind. There often are silences within historical texts that go unnoticed, explained Hauser. “We need to know not only what these records say, but what is missing [from them].”

Despite the extreme difficulty of successfully creating and maintaining a workable dig site in the Caribbean, due to the ever present threat of hurricanes, mudslides, and other natural disasters, Hauser was still able to find enough data to compare both plantations side by side to better understand them.

“The comparative study was really interesting,” said senior Mala Owings, “because differences in lifeways can be pulled out of obvious archaeological material records, which is what we’ve been learning [in classes]. So watching someone basing their analysis of lifeways on these obvious material remains is really fascinating.”

In his study he was able to delve so deeply into the culture of these plantation slaves, that he was able to display battleship curves to the audience and describe commonalities and differences between age, sex, and ancestry of the slaves within the two different sites.

While archaeologists can always consult maps, legal codes, the geographic information system (GIS), and historical documents, finding artifacts is one of the most important ways of understanding different cultures. According to Hauser, they connect us to networks, both planned and unexpected.

“I found him entertaining in the classroom environment and his passion for his work was self-evident,” said junior Virginia Williams. “It made me want to read and hear more about what he had to say about the ceramics created in the Caribbean, the hybridization of different cultures in the form of ceramics, and what their uses were.”

Gettysburg College Speaker Talks About Slave Myth

Last Thursday, September 22, Peter S. Carmichael spoke at St. Mary’s Hall about the myth that there were slaves who wanted to serve in the Confederate Army. His talk was titled, “Imagining Slaves as Loyal Confederates: A Dangerous and Enduring Fantasy.”

Carmichael is the Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies as well as the Director of the Civil war institute at Gettysburg College. However, he did not only use his knowledge of the Civil War to tell his story, he also shared personal information about his family, like the astonishment his daughters had when they learned that the south left the Union.

Students like senior Caitie Harrigan found the talk interesting. “I thought he had a very compelling argument, and thought that the emotion he put into it [made it] much more interesting to watch,” she said.

Harrigan said she went to the talk because she, “took a slave narrative class, and I thought it would be important to hear a historical perspective.”

Senior Dominick Morris also found the history interesting, saying, “I liked how he looked at the legacy through a modern perspective, and I thought it was interesting how people are still clinging to this myth.”

Carmichael talked about how the myth of slaves wanting to fight for their masters continues today in textbooks in the south. He says that the reasoning behind the myth is personal accounts of families who had slaves that had the chance to escape but did not, images of white and African American soldiers, and personal accounts of African Americans after the war was over.

But what is wrong with these sources? Carmichael explained that the relationship between slave and master should never be confused or construed as a loving relationship. Slaves ultimately did what they needed to do in order to survive, which potentially included lying to former Confederate soldiers, after the war was over, about why they fought.

The talk very much was about how to look at history. Carmichael explained how sources can be read very differently. Some people may see a picture of a white soldier with a black soldier and see some sense of loyalty between the two. He showed the various flaws with this idea simply by asking questions like, “Why would a slave support a cause that wants him to remain a slave?”

“I thought it was interesting how he took the evidence and framed it in the slave’s perspective,” said Morris.

For those interested in aspects of the Civil War, there will be a lecture on the Confederate Flag this Thursday, Sept. 29 at 4:15 p.m. in the Auerbach Auditorium of St. Mary’s Hall by  John M. Coski, historian and vice-president at The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia.