Constructing history and interdisciplinary work

During our research trip to Louisiana, I was struck by the differences in narratives we heard at our tours to various sugar plantations. One tour was from the perspective of slaves. A different tour centered around the life of one owner on the plantation who opposed slavery. Unfortunately, one tour was solely about the plantation owners who lived in the manor and covered nothing about the harsh reality of slavery.

Reconstructed double-pen slave cabins at Oak Alley Plantation.
West facing facade of Houmas House Plantation.

Hearing all these different approaches gave our group good ideas for what we want to accomplish in our project as well as examples on what not to do. Additionally, the tours gave me more insight into how history is constructed. After experiencing the different tours, I realize that the story of Louisiana sugar plantations changes when you shift focuses between the different people who lived on the plantations.

Besides getting new perspectives from our plantation tours, I also found our trip enjoyable because of the interdisciplinary nature of our group. It was interesting, as a History major, to talk with my group members, Zachary and Rachel, who study Computer Science, about what they thought of on our tours.

Student dev team members and Grinnell College faculty discussing the history of Laura Plantation with our tour guide Kristyn.
Student dev team members learning more about the slave rebellions and the economics of sugar at Whitney Plantation.
Sam Nakahira (’19) writing up her site-based research reflections at the New Orleans Airport.

I think our research trip was beneficial because it gave me a chance to get to know the people who I would be working with better—last week has made me excited for getting started on our collaborative work this upcoming semester.

Author: Sam Nakahira

Sam Nakahira ‘19 is a History major with a concentration in American Studies. She is the team subject-matter expert who researches the sugar plantation and its cultural history. In addition, Sam hopes to incorporate the digital humanities in her own research as a Mellon Mays fellow.

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