Master of Arts (M.A.)
The Historic Area of Colonial Williamsburg is often presented as a “town which time passed by” (Yetter 1988:30). This narrative implies that the museum landscape reflects the actual past and that restoration efforts simply returned the town to the way it used to be. However, the Restoration was accomplished according to specific ideological goals. Colonial Williamsburg was created as a shrine to traditionalist, conservative values (Greenspan 2002; Handler & Gable 1997; Lindgren 1989; Lindgren 1993) which are intrinsically linked to the global structure of systemic White supremacy. These values were enacted during the Restoration, as Black residents of the future Historic Area were underpaid for their property and displaced into segregated neighborhoods. They were also inscribed in the physical museum landscape and in the development of historic interpretation. In the past few decades, Colonial Williamsburg has attempted to bring silenced histories to light through increased dedication to African-American interpretation. Still, this history of erasure goes largely unacknowledged by the Foundation. In this thesis, I use the First Baptist Church as a case study to demonstrate how Black history was silenced by the Restoration and how an ongoing archaeological project works to resituate the site within the museum landscape. I discuss the history of the church from its founding in 1776 through the present day, with special emphasis on the displacement in 1957 and the tropes of silencing (Trouillot 2015 ) utilized in the creation of the museum landscape. The installation of interpretive infrastructure adjacent to the site in the 1960s and 1990s recognized the historic significance of the First Baptist site while simultaneously continuing the erasure of Colonial Williamsburg’s role in the church’s destruction. The 2020-2023 archaeological project incorporates community voices in the (re)interpretation of the site and provides an opportunity for Colonial Williamsburg to acknowledge its own history of racism and dispossession.
© The Author
Gum, Victoria R., "Landscapes Of Silence At The First Baptist Church" (2023). Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects. William & Mary. Paper 1686662553.