“WELCUM, OONA. TIME FA WE LAAN BOUT GULLAH” (WELCOME, EVERYONE. TIME FOR US TO LEARN ABOUT GULLAH): PENN CENTER’S ROLE IN THE PRESERVATION OF GULLAH GEECHEE’S CULTURAL HERITAGE
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“Welcum, Oona. Time Fa We Laan Bout Gullah” (Welcome, Everyone. Time for us to learn about Gullah): Penn Center’s Role in the Preservation of Gullah Geechee’s Cultural Heritage focuses on the historic Penn Center, formerly the Penn School, on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, as a selected site of analytical inquiry and as a premier cultural institution that preserves Gullah history and heritage. This project makes use of interdisciplinary methods from several fields—material culture, museum studies, self-ethnography, visual analysis, and historic preservation, among others—to illuminate the history and culture of the Gullah people. I use these methods to argue that the Penn Center presents a competing “voice” to prevailing discourses because it rewrites and revalues Gullah history. This dissertation delineates how the Gullahs have responded to the dominant discourses through counter-narratives, cultural practices, and individual and community activism. It argues that the Penn Center disrupts discourses seeking to stereotype the Gullah culture by functioning as a site of resistance to mainstream definitions, as a site of the reclamation of voice and agency in the process of self-definition, and as a site for the preservation and celebration of Gullah Geechee culture and cultural identity. In demonstrating the contribution of the Penn Center, this dissertation renders attention to issues related to race, class, and gender as these issues have surfaced in the history and culture under discussion. This project also offers analysis of material culture housed at the Penn Center’s York W. Bailey Museum. Drawing upon the theories of Stuart Hall on cultural identity and E. McClung Fleming on material culture analysis, this study offers analysis of cultural objects and photographic images found in this museum space. This dissertation concludes with oral history narratives that further illuminate the competing “voices” found that shed light on Gullah cultural identity and the manner in which Gullah people must navigate and negotiate the larger American sociopolitical landscape.