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Archaeology, Narrative, and the Politics of the Past

The View from Southern Maryland

Julia A. King

Publication Year: 2012

In this innovative work, Julia King moves nimbly among a variety of sources and disciplinary approaches—archaeological, historical, architectural, literary, and art-historical—to show how places take on, convey, and maintain meanings. Focusing on the beautiful Chesapeake Bay region of Maryland, King looks at the ways in which various groups, from patriots and politicians of the antebellum era to present-day archaeologists and preservationists, have transformed key landscapes into historical, indeed sacred, spaces.
    The sites King examines include the region’s vanishing tobacco farms; St. Mary’s City, established as Maryland’s first capital by English settlers in the seventeenth century; and Point Lookout, the location of a prison for captured Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. As the author explores the historical narratives associated with such places, she uncovers some surprisingly durable myths as well as competing ones. St. Mary’s City, for example, early on became the center of Maryland’s “founding narrative” of religious tolerance, a view commemorated in nineteenth-century celebrations and reflected even today in local museum exhibits and preserved buildings. And at Point Lookout, one private group has established a Confederate Memorial Park dedicated to those who died at the prison, thus nurturing the Lost Cause ideology that arose in the South in the late 1800s, while nearby the custodians of a 1,000-acre state park avoid controversy by largely ignoring the area’s Civil War history, preferring instead to concentrate on recreation and tourism, an unusually popular element of which has become the recounting of ghost stories.
    As King shows, the narratives that now constitute the public memory in southern Maryland tend to overlook the region’s more vexing legacies, particularly those involving slavery and race. Noting how even her own discipline of historical archaeology has been complicit in perpetuating old narratives, King calls for research—particularly archaeological research—that produces new stories and “counter-narratives” that challenge old perceptions and interpretations and thus convey a more nuanced grasp of a complicated past.

Julia A. King is an associate professor of anthropology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where she coordinates the Museum Studies Program and directs the SlackWater Center, a consortium devoted to exploring, documenting, and interpreting the changing landscapes of Chesapeake communities. She is also coeditor, with Dennis B. Blanton, of Indian and European Contact in Context: The Mid-Atlantic Region.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. v

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pp. xii-xv

In 1983 I moved to southern Maryland, attracted to the region by its beauty and its history, and began a still-ongoing love affair with this richest of landscapes. I came first to do archaeology, working for what is today known as the Historic St. Mary’s City Commission and then the Jefferson Patterson...

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1. The Bounds of History

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pp. 1-14

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, in 2000, tobacco farming in Maryland was dealt a near-fatal blow when the state implemented an agricultural policy designed to end the production of the crop. Through an agricultural buyout program, Maryland signaled its intention to break a nearly four-hundred...

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2. How the Past Became a Place

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pp. 15-50

On a warm spring day in 1836, three wealthy, well-respected men, two from Baltimore and one from the Jesuit plantation at St. Inigoes, “set out upon a search for some relics” in the plantation neighborhoods located at the mouth of the Patuxent River in southern Maryland. They had as their guide an elderly black...

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3. The Transient Nature of All Things Sublunary

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pp. 51-88

One especially interesting artifact commemorating Maryland’s colonial settlement is Emanuel Leutze’s painting, The Founding of Maryland (Figure 3.1).1 Leutze, who is best known for Washington Crossing the Delaware and Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way, painted The Founding of Maryland...

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4. Collecting Utopia

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pp. 89-112

One especially interesting artifact commemorating Maryland’s colonial settlement is Emanuel Leutze’s painting, The Founding of Maryland (Figure 3.1).1 Leutze, who is best known for Washington Crossing the Delaware and Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way, painted The Founding of Maryland...

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5. The Past Is a Rural Landscape

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pp. 113-144

In the spring of 1993, Historic St. Mary’s City made the decision to cease mowing the yard surrounding the reconstructed State House of 1676 (Figure 5.1). The museum’s purpose was to create a visually “authentic” seventeenth-century landscape, one that would not have had, in the 1670s and 1680s...

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6. Commemorative Hauntings

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pp. 145-172

Sidney Lanier, the Southern poet and essayist, was in a good position to describe the situation at Point Lookout during the Civil War. As a captured Confederate soldier, he had spent several months in the prisonerof- war camp located there. Indeed, it was at Point Lookout, a dramatic peninsula landscape located...

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7. Beyond Storytelling

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pp. 173-198

When I was in graduate school in the late 1970s and early ’80s, my fellow students and I liked to think, as graduate students sometimes do, that our generation was going to set the world on fire through historical archaeology. Although we were very excited about a number of directions in which the discipline...


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pp. 199-236


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pp. 237-260


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pp. 261-272

E-ISBN-13: 9781572338883
E-ISBN-10: 1572338881
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572338517
Print-ISBN-10: 1572338512

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 805830378
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Archaeology, Narrative, and the Politics of the Past

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Archaeology -- Chesapeake Bay Region (Md. and Va.).
  • Archaeology -- Maryland.
  • Historic sites -- Psychological aspects.
  • Historic sites -- Conservation and restoration -- Chesapeake Bay Region (Md. and Va.).
  • Historic sites -- Conservation and restoration -- Maryland.
  • Collective memory.
  • Antiquities in popular culture -- Chesapeake Bay Region (Md. and Va.).
  • Antiquities in popular culture -- Maryland.
  • Saint Marys City (Md.) -- History.
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