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The Political Work of Memory in Collaborative Caribbean Archaeology

This dissertation is the product of a community-based research project that sought to understand how descendants of the 19th century Millars Plantation on the southern end of Eleuthera, Bahamas continue to use and reinterpret the landscape that they have called home for over a century and a half. In 1871, the last owner of the Millars Plantation left the estate in her will to the descendants of her former slaves and servants. That descendant community still upholds their right to this land today, although in recent years, a Bahamian developer has attempted to gain title to the acreage through the Bahamian courts. Community members and local island-based organizations have mobilized to record their local history as a way of demonstrating their continued occupation and use of the land, and thus their right to it. The dissertation draws on Black Feminist epistemologies and community-based, participatory research frameworks to analyze the construction of a collective memory around the former Millars Plantation Estate. Using a combination of ethnographic and archaeological methods, the project explored how individuals and organizations negotiate a unique memoryscape that connects the historical and contemporary cultural landscapes of South Eleuthera, defining what it means to be both from and of this place. I argue that residents today materialize memory – piecing together object, story, and space – on a living landscape that has too often been framed as empty or relegated to the past. South Eleutherans use this material memoryscape as a tool for community building and political activism, reaffirming their connection and right to the land today. This dissertation makes a case for a contemporary and collaborative interpretation of historical sites and landscapes. A side by side reading of archaeological and social stratigraphy reveals that place is continuously imbued with value by local and descendant communities through ongoing material and social formation processes.