Mandatory education : sharing the story of slavery at the Whitney Plantation Museum
The Whitney Plantation, recently opened as a museum in Wallace, Louisiana, represents a new attempt to educate the public about the history of American slavery. The site, marketed as a museum of slavery, consists of exhibitions, memorials, and both original and reconstructed buildings. I argue that the Whitney Plantation Museum engages in three distinct projects on its site—that of a museum of slavery, a memorial to slavery, and as a plantation museum. Using the museum’s website, tours, exhibitions, and marketing material, I explore these three projects, commenting on the efficacy of each in regard to the Whitney’s larger goals to educate the public on the history of slavery. I argue that the Whitney’s effectiveness as a site of slavery and public history lies in its role as a plantation museum, engaging in a very different project to other plantation sites located in the same area. While the three projects competing for focus at the Whitney serve to undermine some of its good intentions, it is in the museums’ role as a unique version of a plantation museum that the Whitney finds its place as a new and vital addition to a wider American conception of public history and slavery.