The research for this project has included numerous visits to the Davidson College Archives & Special Collections and The North Carolina State Archives, the review of various digital and print sources, meetings with college students, faculty, and staff, photographing of sites on campus and in town, consultations with tech support, attendance at DRI events, and several rounds of writing, citation, and revisions.
My process has been informed by anti-racist, decolonial, and queer scholarship, and has taken a historical anthroplogical approach. The key scholars and sources I draw from are discussed below; for more information, please look out for the community event in September or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most mainstream resources regarding Davidson College’s history (including the work of Mary Beaty, Cornelia Shaw, Chalmers Davidson, and others) reveal a pattern of erasure of non-White realities and a deliberate avoidance of Davidson’s implication in the area’s racist and colonial past. This project is a conscious effort to break with these partial histories; to do this, I turned first to Sara Ahmed and her concept of disorienting which (as indicated in the original tour’s title) has been a key part of this work from the beginning.
Ahmed writes about disorienting as a conceptual and bodily experience that allows individuals to separate from frameworks and systems they are embedded in, which is well-suited for the purposes of this project. She emphasizes that some bodies are more likely to be disoriented, particularly those who contradict hegemonic power; this description is closely aligned with the experiences of students of color at Davidson (and underrepresented faculty and staff as well) that speak to their own over-policing and hyper-surveillance. Ahmed also argues that disorientation is not inherently dissident, but must be accompanied by an informed reaction that explores “the hope of new directions” (2006, 158). While recommendations for the institution moving forward are not explicit in this project, many have been made by student groups since at least the 1970s; I hope to trace the history of such suggestions in my senior thesis for Anthropology during the 2019-2020 academic year.
The nature of this project is to address gaps in the existing archive; thus, rather than creating new information, it is about recovering and rediscovering existing information that has been lost from or pushed out of the college’s collective memory, popular history, and literal records. During 2019’s Sally G. McMillen lecture at the college, Karen Cox discussed how contemporary supporters of the Confederacy consciously “[connect] future generations with the past;” in order to counter those ties that are drawn across generations, anti-racist advocates must do the same, by showing how racist and colonial histories are part and parcel of our present because of our past. To this end, I have employed Gloria Wekker’s (2016, 26) methodological approach, adapted from the “scavenger methodology” of Jack Halberstam which seeks to incorporate a wide range of information and sources that have traditionally been ignored and erased in mainstream academia. Wekker’s adaptation of Halberstam’s methodology brings a more explicit focus on race and draws from a variety of mediums. Based on this technique, I have worked to highlight and re-center a variety of knowledges that have been restricted to the margins, and incorporate academic and non-academic sources, photos, recordings, stories, interviews, and more. In this way, I have attempted to pull from disparate sources and methods to create a cohesive whole that can more completely inform us about Davidson’s complex history.
As discussed, many of the popular sources that discuss the college are primarily concerned with glorifying the institution and its predominantly white caretakers, and in the process minimize and eliminate other voices, stories, and bodies. I have tried to avoid relying too heavily on such sources, as they are generally over-studied and perpetuate the very myths of Davidson that I am interested in deconstructing; however, this was not always possible, as they are sometimes the only sources accessible to me that discuss a particular event, individual, or location, and they often do contain ideas and events that must be unpacked. In attempting to acknowledge and understand the inherent violence of colonial and slavery-era archives, I have looked to Saidiya Hartman. Hartman discusses how the construction of these archives reflects and often reiterates the violence enacted against enslaved Black people, which is in turn often mirrored in work that uses those archives. I have in some places omitted racist language/terminology and sensationalized accounts of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous violence, opting instead to relay the information in a way that emphasizes the severity of a situation without making or re-making it into a spectacle.
Hartman also writes on silences in the archive, which is precisely the problem this project seeks to address. This issue is particularly relevant because the conscious construction of an archive around Davidson College that glorifies the institution indicates that such gaps are often deliberate. This calls for archives to be disrupted, or in Edda Fields-Black’s words, for us to “make documents testify against their authors” (2019). Finally, Hartman discusses the fragmentary nature of archives, which is highly applicable to this project’s attempt to assemble and curate partial accounts and apparently-separate information.
In dealing specifically with historical and archival sources from an anthropological perspective, I have pulled from Caroline Brettell’s work to be cognizant of the conditions under which historical sources were created, as well as how pieces may indicate the existence of multiple histories on the personal, familial, local, and national levels. Brettell’s work also emphasizes how personal experiences can indicate and overlap with social trends, and thus enhance historical analyses. The writing of Paul Atkinson and Martyn Hammersley challenges the dismissal of documentary and textual sources that sometimes occurs in anthropology, and recasts such sources as critical cultural artefacts that have the potential to illuminate the thought and behavior of the social actors they are concerned with.
Hilary N. Green, who presented a selection of her work at the “Slavery, Violence, and the Archive” Conference at Davidson College, is the creator of an alternative campus tour at the University of Alabama which highlights the experiences of enslaved people and Black workers throughout the school’s history. This work prompted her to make strategic use of the school’s archives and explore under-studied sources regarding the enslaved experience, and ultimately “revealed the power embedded in the myths that institutions tell themselves and their constituents” (Green 2019).
The parts of the University of Alabama’s history and the trends and impacts that she discusses are incredibly similar to those of Davidson College; the two schools, partially because of geographical location, have remarkably parallel histories when it comes to the treatment of enslaved people and their descendants. Additionally, Green’s analysis of the archives and her re-historicization of Black individuals is invaluable, making her work an informative and inspirational model for this project. Her dedication to challenging the constant erasure of these individuals in the university’s physical landscape and her commitment to “learning, documenting, and saying their names” is precisely what this project attempts to lay more foundation for at Davidson College. The archive of Davidson overflows with the names of colonizers, enslavers, and trustees, but the names of enslaved individuals and exploited laborers are rarer; I hope that the research contained here can provide pathways for future work that might name and re-center them in the college’s history.
Finally, a critical part of this project has been acknowledging the advice, time, effort, and input of numerous individuals. Dana-Ain Davis’ understanding of citation as an ongoing spiritual practice has been invaluable in shaping this work. Davis asserts that citing others is not only an “academic praxis” but a “way of life” that acknowledges the cooperation and connections that provide the inspiration and infrastructure for countless projects (Davis 2019). Her work reiterates the importance of crediting specifically Black women, whose contributions are so often ignored, erased, or appropriated both within and beyond the academy. Her discussion of citation and crediting others more generally informed which sources I looked to, their organization, and my collaborations and acknowledgements.