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Recovering Black history

Feb 27, 2023

Research on historically marginalized people uncovers previously unknown stories at Historic New England sites

Historic New England researchers with different areas of expertise, such as LGBTQ+ history, Black history, Indigenous history, and women’s history, have identified more than five hundred new stories of people connected with our historic sites, including those of almost thirty enslaved people. These fuller, more complex stories are being introduced at Historic New England sites and programs while research continues.

Currently, two researchers are focusing on Black history and the experience of Black people in New England from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Recovering New England’s Voices Scholar Erika Slocumb is deepening our understanding of the stories of free Black and enslaved individuals connected to all thirty-eight Historic New England sites. Dr. Paula Austin is focused on Telling the Full Dorchester Story, a new education initiative at the 1683 Pierce House in Dorchester, Mass. The results of her work will refocus our youth education programs at Pierce House and engage students through the stories of enslaved, free Black, and other marginalized people connected to the site during the colonial period and Revolutionary era.

This research is deeply meaningful to each of these scholars

Portrait photo of researcher Erika Slocumb

As a historian, Black history is important to me. Our histories, in many cases, have been lost to time. Black history was seemingly a footnote, dictated by our relationship to whiteness, rather than a nuanced perspective of American history and culture. My work has focused on working with families and communities to recover the stories of our past in put them in context of broader historical narratives. Through the initiative of Recovering New England’s Voices, I have the opportunity to work within archives at Historic New England and across the region to discover the gaps in the history, to work with Black communities to tell their stories and incorporate new narratives into public tours and programming. It is important, not only for building archives but also for educating the public about the history of historically marginalized groups. I am honored to be able to do this work.” Erika Slocumb

Photo portrait of Paula Austin

It’s so important to tell full and dynamic histories about every community. Not just to set the record straight but also because our histories help us understand and navigate the contemporary crises we are living through. Understanding complex and/or hard histories can help us make decisions about our current struggles and complete histories are valuable because students, and all of us, need to and benefit from seeing ourselves – in all our complicated ways, throughout time.” Paula Austin

Generous funding supports this work

This work is made possible by generous grant funding. Erika Slocumb’s work is supported by a $50,000 grant from the Americana Foundation through its American Heritage program. The grant directly supports creation of research reports, interpretive plans, public programs, and staff training sessions. Teaching the Full Dorchester Story is made possible by a $20,000 Expand Massachusetts Stories grant from Mass Humanities, which provided funding through the Mass Cultural Council. The initiative supports projects across the state that strive to promote an equitable and inclusive society that recognizes all people’s perspectives, especially those that have been marginalized and underrepresented.

For more information on donating to these research initiatives, please email [email protected] or call 617-994-5951.

Alissa Butler manages the study center at Historic New England and Victoria Stanton oversees program support as institutional giving officer.