HIDDEN LIVES: THE INTERPRETATION OF THE SLAVE QUARTER SITES AT MOUNT VERNON
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The restoration and protection of historic places related to minority groups should be an integral part of historic preservation. The subject, however, is contentious, presenting a topic that is difficult to present both accurately and sensitively. The interpretation of slave quarter sites, which are typically located on larger farms and plantations, has long been neglected and flawed. Many challenges exist in terms of how to preserve and interpret sites related to the enslavement of African-Americans. The interpretive plan must be carefully considered so that it presents an honest and unflinching look at the realities of slavery in the United States, while also maintaining an awareness of the sensitive subject matter on display. This paper will argue that the interpretation of slave quarters, in this case at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Farm, can be achieved while being sensitive to the subject matter and also accurately representing the historical integrity of the place. Case studies of interpretation strategies at slave quarter sites will be examined, and the specific interpretative strategies for the slave quarter sites at Mount Vernon will be detailed. Mount Vernon provides an excellent case study for examining the interpretation of minority cultural sites, or specifically, slave quarters, because it consists of two sites, one for house slaves and one for field workers, that both require interpretation. Extensive documentation is available that records the history, restoration and interpretation undertaken at the estate, and debate, from within and outside of the organization, has continued about the proper approach to furnishing and interpreting the slave quarter sites at Mount Vernon. Studying the development of the current interpretation strategies in the Mount Vernon case will aid in identifying a broader interpretation approach for sensitive cultural sites, such as slave quarters.