In this paper I will describe a project in which archaeologists and local citizens are collaborating to create an Internet Web Site <>to discuss the politically and emotionally charged archaeologies and histories of the Levi Jordan Plantation, located in Brazoria, Texas, USA. An attempt is being made to see whether 'the Net' can provide a way for the descendants of the original residents of this plantation (both African-American and European-American) to conduct critical dialogues with archaeologists, with each other, with people elsewhere - and with 'the past' (Levi Jordan Plantation Historical Society 1998) In the context of this paper, the term 'local' refers to both the people and the community located near the Levi Jordan Plantation itself. It includes the descendants of the plantation's original residents as well as people who represent other community interests.

This project is situated within the somewhat contentious landscape of American historical archaeology, which continues to struggle with the role it will (or, perhaps, will not) have in the future of anthropological archaeology in the United States. Many American historical archaeologists insist that, as scientists, they should try to avoid involvement with present-day social or political agendas (see, for example, Moore 1993). Even when this involvement is regarded as inevitable (or even welcomed), archaeologists frequently express discomfort with the notion of sharing decisions about the direction of their research - their research questions, in particular - with people outside archaeology (see, for example, McKee 1994). While this continues to be contested terrain, the project I will describe here represents one segment of a growing movement within American historical archaeology to share control of archaeological research with the people who are most affected by it - the living descendants of the individual people who left behind the material and historical remains that are the object of study. It is also part of a more general move to embrace, rather than to deny, the inherently political nature of historical archaeological practice (Baker 1997; Blakey 1997; Derry 1997; Edwards 1997; Franklin 1997b; Gibb 1997; Jeppson 1997; LaRoche 1997; McDavid 1997a; McDavid 1997b; Patten 1997; Potter 1994).

This approach is overtly political, because frequently the research itself addresses past and present political relationships between oppressor and oppressed peoples. In the study described here, for example, slavery may be over, but in many ways people in Brazoria, Texas, are still negotiating issues of power and control - issues that spring from their ancestors' relationships during the slave and tenant period (McDavid 1997a; Powers 1994; Wright 1994). In this context archaeologists cannot evade being part of the political scene, and they also cannot evade the necessity of dealing reflexively, critically and responsibly (Leone 1986; Leone et al. 1995; Leone, Potter, and Shackel 1987; Potter 1994) with the power they hold as members of the academic establishment. By politics here I refer primarily to the private politics (Foucault 1982) that drive the local, personal, decisions that are part of the everyday negotiation of power, such as deciding who should plan the yearly history parade, who should serve on the school board - and whom you trust to tell the stories of your ancestors. The project I describe here has more to do with accommodating the competing interests of everyday life (Rorty 1996) than it has to do with political parties or, even, the politics of bureaucracies like planning agencies, heritage foundations, and the like.

Go to the Levi Jordan Web Site


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