Stories in Stone: Memorialization, the Creation of History and the Role of Preservation

2018-05-25T10:44:03Z (GMT) by Emily Williams
In 1851 and 1866, Alexander Dunlop, a free black living in Williamsburg, VA, purchased tombstones to commemorate the lives of his father-in-law, Robert F. Hill, and of his wife, Lucy Ann Dunlop. Such purchases were rarities among Virginia’s free black community, and these particular gravestones are made more significant by Dunlop’s choice of text, his political advocacy, and the racialized rhetoric of the period. Buried by a white church in the 1920s and later by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the tombstones were rediscovered in 2004 and became the center of a long-term conservation initiative, which ended in 2016. This thesis examines the story of the tombstones, contrasting them with other regional memory projects, such as the remembrance of the Civil War dead and the erection of monuments to the Lost Cause. The research utilizes a fusion of object biography and micro-historical approaches that allows the strength of each approach to be adopted while rejecting some of their limitations. Data from a regional survey of nineteenth-century cemeteries, historical accounts, literary sources, and the visual arts are woven together to explore the agentive relationships between monuments, their commissioners, their creators, their viewers and the ways in which memory is created and contested and how this impacts the history we learn and preserve.

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