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Living in a History Museum: Local Perspectives on Colonial Williamsburg

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Author: Volpert, Alexandra F.
Advisor: Linneman, Thomas John
Committee Members: Kennedy, Colleen; Pease, Edwin
Issued Date: 5/12/2011
Subjects: Graphic Novel
Local History
Colonial Williamsburg
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10288/13698
Description: The interaction between historical interpretation in Colonial Williamsburg and the contemporary "idea of America” is literally played out in the modern town of Williamsburg. Considering the relationship between Colonial Williamsburg and Williamsburg locals begs two inseparable questions: How has the local community been affected by Colonial Williamsburg? How do the dynamics of the local community affect the portrayal of history in Colonial Williamsburg? On one hand the tourist industry created by Colonial Williamsburg is the greatest source of revenue in the town and has drastically affected its modern geography and social dynamic (Taylor, 2000). On the other hand, the evolving social dynamics of the town have also had an effect on the historiography of Colonial Williamsburg. For example, the construction of Colonial Williamsburg increased residential segregation in Greater Williamsburg. Additionally, the evolving relationship between blacks and whites in the town has been reflected in the portrayal of slavery in Colonial Williamsburg. Just as historical interpretation in the museum has shaped the modern identity of Williamsburg residents, the modern identity of Williamsburg residents shapes their interpretation of history in the museum. Hence, the interconnectedness of Colonial Williamsburg with Greater Williamsburg makes an interesting case study for teasing out the relationship between the modern individual and his or position within a historical discourse. Furthermore, it provides an interesting examination of how the construction a living history museum devoted to the discourse of American heritage has created a unique local culture. I have conducted in-depth interviews with ten locals that focus on perceptions of Colonial Williamsburg, specifically its controversial portrayal of slavery in the 18th century. Additionally, I have taken dialogue from these interviews to write a graphic novel that addresses some of these themes and how they interact with the local culture. I found in my research that although members of the Williamsburg community claim diverse social identities as southerners, blacks, whites, students, and retirees individuals with opposing political beliefs had very similar perspectives on history, race and Colonial Williamsburg. I believe that many of these people would not normally have a conversation with each other in which they could realize this. As a result, I have used fiction to create a kind of conversation about these issues and I have done my best to represent the different perspectives that I encountered.
Degree: Bachelors of Arts in Literary and Cultural Studies

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