Meaning Falls Apart
Anagrammatical Blackness and Memorialization at the Museum
Keywords:Memorialization, racism, whiteness, Cincinnati, museum
This paper uses Christina Sharpe’s concept of “anagramatical blackness” to explore the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center as an example of what I will term the anagramatical landscape. Sharpe writes that Blackness anagramatically shifts the meaning of people, places, and things. The Freedom Center is a museum located in Cincinnati, Ohio dedicated to telling the story of American slavery as well as other stories of civil and human rights. I examine the Freedom Center as more than a museum, but also as a memorial because of its geographic location along the boundary between the American North and South as well as its situation within the wider American geographic imagination as a site of “National” history telling. Content analysis of TripAdvisor reviews by visitors shows that these people struggle with their preconceived notions about what stories are being told as well as for who they are being told. Using Sharpe’s idea that when words come up against Blackness, their meanings shift, I look at the Freedom Center as an anagramatical space that white reviewers fear they may not have access to because of its focus on the story of Black people resisting against white supremacy. It is only when they reposition whiteness within the narrative or, as Sharpe writes, “redact” blackness, and decode the memorial landscape through epistemological whiteness, that this space becomes comprehensible. Through the use of this framework, I take the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center as an example of how geographers might expand upon the idea of the anagramatical landscape to understand opposition to memorial work that centers Black lives.
Alderman, D. H., D. L. Butler, and S. P. Hanna. 2016. Memory, slavery, and plantation museums: the River Road Project. Journal of Heritage Tourism 11 (3):209–218.
Alderman, D. H., and J. F. J. Inwood. 2015. The National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee. Southeastern Geographer 55 (1):1–5.
Bledsoe, A., and W. J. Wright. 2018. The anti-Blackness of global capital. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 37 (1):8–26.
Bohland, J. D. 2013. Look away, look away, look away to Lexington: struggles over Neo-Confederate nationalism, memory, and masculinity in a small Virginia town. Southeastern Geographer 53 (3):267.
Bonilla-Silva, E. 2014. Racism without racists : color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in America Fourth edi. Lanham : Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Brand, D. 1994. Bread out of stone: recollections, sex, regognitions, race, dreaming, politics First Vint. Canada: Vintage Canada.
Brasher, J. P., D. H. Alderman, and J. F. J. Inwood. 2017. Applying Critical Race and Memory Studies to University Place Naming Controversies: Toward a Responsible Landscape Policy. Papers in Applied Geography :1–16.
Bruyneel, K. 2014. The King’s Body: The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the Politics of Collective Memory. History & Memory 26 (1):75–108.
Carter, P., D. L. Butler, and D. H. Alderman. 2014. The House That Story Built: The Place of Slavery in Plantation Museum Narratives. The Professional Geographer 66 (4):547–557.
Carter, P. L. 2015a. Virtual ethnography: Placing emotional geographies via YouTube. In Social Memory and Heritage Tourism Methodologies, eds. S. P. Hanna, A. E. Potter, E. A. Modlin Jr, P. Carter, and D. L. Butler, 48–67. London and New York: Routledge.
———. 2015b. Where are the enslaved?: TripAdvisor and the narrative landscapes of southern plantation museums. Journal of Heritage Tourism :1–15.
Commander, M. D. 2017. Afro-Atlantic Flight: Speculative Returns and the Black Fantastic. Durham: Duke University Press.
Cook, M. R. 2016. Counter-narratives of slavery in the Deep South: the politics of empathy along and beyond River Road. Journal of Heritage Tourism 11 (3):290–308.
Crang, M., and D. P. Tolia-Kelly. 2010. Nation, Race, and Affect: Senses and Sensibilities at National Heritage Sites. Environment and Planning A 42 (10):2315–2331.
Dwyer, O. J., and D. H. Alderman. 2008. Memorial landscapes: analytic questions and metaphors. GeoJournal 73 (3):165–178. http://ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/223672699?accountid=13158.
Farrow, A., J. Lang, and J. Frank. 2006. Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited From Slavery. New York: Ballantine Books.
Hanna, S. P. 2008. A Slavery Museum?: Race, Memory, and Landscape in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Southeastern Geographer 48 (3):316–337.
Hawthorne, C. 2019. Black matters are spatial matters: Black geographies for the twenty-first century. Geography Compass 0 (0):e12468.
Hoelscher, S., and D. H. Alderman. 2004. Memory and place: geographies of a critical relationship. Social & Cultural Geography 5 (3):347–355.
Leib, J., and G. R. Webster. 2015. On Remembering John Winberry and the Study of Confederate Monuments on the Southern Landscape. Southeastern Geographer 55 (1):9–18.
Lynch, B., and S. M. M. Alberti. 2010. Legacies of prejudice: racism, co-production and radical trust in the museum. Museum Management and Curatorship 25 (1):13–35.
Markham, A. 2012. FABRICATION AS ETHICAL PRACTICE. Information, Communication & Society 15 (3):334–353. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2011.641993.
McCauley, B., and M. Curnutte. 2019. For 15th anniversary, 15 facts about the national Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Cincinnati Enquirer. https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2019/08/02/national-underground-railroad-freedom-center-15th-anniversary-cincinnati/1888031001/ (last accessed 3 October 2019).
McKittrick, K. 2007. “Freedom is a Secret”: The Future Usability of the Underground. In Black geographies and the politics of place, eds. K. McKittrick and C. A. Woods, 97–114. Toronto, Ont.: Between the Lines.
———. 2011. On plantations, prisons, and a black sense of place. Social & Cultural Geography 12 (8):947–963.
Mills, C. W. 1997. The Racial Contract. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.
Mitchell, K. 2003. Monuments, Memorials, and the Politics of Memory. Urban Geography 24 (5):442–459.
Modlin, E. A., D. H. Alderman, and G. W. Gentry. 2011. Tour Guides as Creators of Empathy: The Role of Affective Inequality in Marginalizing the Enslaved at Plantation House Museums. Tourist Studies 11 (1):3–19.
Modlin, E. A. J. 2008. Tales Told on the Tour: Mythic Representations of Slavery by Docents at North Carolina Plantation Museums. Southeastern Geographer 48 (3):265–287.
Nelson, V. 2015. “Don’t forget”: Social memory in travel blogs from Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovia. In Social Memory and Heritage Tourism Methodologies, eds. S. P. Hanna, A. E. Potter, E. A. Modlin Jr, P. Carter, and D. L. Butler, 15–30. New York and London: Routledge.
Ray, V., and L. Seamster. 2016. Rethinking racial progress: a response to Wimmer. Ethnic and Racial Studies 39 (8):1361–1369.
Robertson, J. O. 1980. American Myth, American Reality. New York: Hill and Wang.
Seamster, L., and V. Ray. 2018. Against Teleology in the Study of Race: Toward the Abolition of the Progress Paradigm. Sociological Theory 36 (4):315–342.
Sharpe, C. 2016. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The Organization | National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. https://www.freedomcenter.org/about-us (last accessed 23 May 2019).
Tolia-Kelly, D. P. 2016. Feeling and Being at the (Postcolonial) Museum: Presencing the Affective Politics of ‘Race’ and Culture. Sociology 50 (5):896–912.
Tolia-Kelly, D. P., and R. Raymond. 2020. Decolonising museum cultures: An artist and a geographer in collaboration. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 45 (1):2–17.
Tripadvisor. About Tripadvisor. https://tripadvisor.mediaroom.com/us-about-us (last accessed 14 February 2020).
Williams, M. L., P. Brunap, L. Sloan, C. Jessop, and H. Lepps. 2018. Users’ Views of Ethics in Social Media Research: Informed Consent, Anonymity, and Harm. In The Ethics of Online Research, ed. K. Woodfield, 27–52. Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2022 Bradley Hinger
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Authors agree to publish their articles in ACME under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-