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History informs, engages, and empowers us. It reveals truths about our present and future. It is also challenged and contested and requires authentication. African American history is no exception. In fact, because African American history has been long discounted as not being recorded or tangible, the access to and rare nature of African American history often receives greater scrutiny.
African American history has been studied using traditional methodology, research, and sources. It has also pioneered new ways to consider the past, including oral history, conservation, family history, and more. Black scholars and practitioners who engaged in various methodologies and served as role models for later generations include historian Carter G. Woodson, linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner, museum founder Margaret Burroughs, genealogist Tony Burroughs, and scholar Joseph Harris.
The stories, images, and artifacts put forth in the National Museum of African American History and Culture's exhibitions are based on sound and accepted methodology and research that not only authenticate what is presented but also help to excite the learning in all of us.
Archaeology, a subfield of anthropology, is the study of human cultures—using site excavation, material culture analysis, cultural script and structures as tools for research and understanding. Archaeology may be conducted on land (terrestrial) or underwater (maritime). Archaeological research provides insight into the lived experiences of people and groups who did not leave behind a written record. NMAAHC is a partner and host of the Slave Wrecks Project (SWP), an international collaborative project and cutting-edge effort to locate, study, and present the underwater sites of slavery associated with the Transatlantic Slave Trade network. The project convenes researchers, practitioners, and institutions who employ methodologies including maritime and terrestrial archaeology to take a distinct approach to the study of slave shipwrecks around the world.
Diving With a Purpose
NMAAHC’s partners and collaborators include the George Washington University, National Park Service, Iziko Museums of South Africa, Diving With a Purpose, and the Society of Black Archaeologists. Museum curators rely on the sound scholarship of archaeologists, whose work provides critical insight into the history of enslaved and free Black people in the United States and throughout the African Diaspora. Archaeology helps the Museum share the global history of slavery.
Today the field is looking at ways to close the racial gap and train a new cohort of archaeologists of color, and to identify, prioritize, and secure funding for projects focused on African Diasporic sites. The effort is also regarded as a tool for restorative justice and decolonization.
Dr. Whitney Battle Baptiste
Dr. Whitney Battle Baptiste is a historical archaeologist who focuses primarily on the historical intersection of race, class, and gender in the shaping of cultural landscapes across the African Diaspora. In revisiting the interpretation of the material culture excavated from Lucy Foster’s garden, her work provides a more nuanced understanding of history.
Battle-Baptiste is currently working on "Rules of Engagement: Community-Based Archaeology as a Tool for Social Justice." Her current research takes place on the Millars Plantation site on Eluethera island in the Bahamas, at a community-based archeology project. She focuses on the archeology of gender and race because “if people are being written about, archaeology can be used not only to fill the gaps, but to create alternative stories and histories."