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About Robert R. Weyeneth

My research focuses on the historical study of memory, informed by the unique and particular perspective of a public historian. I am intrigued by the “problematical past” and how controversial and difficult chapters of history can be communicated to public audiences.

My current project examines what I call "the architecture of racial segregation." We know much about segregation as a political, legal, and social institution but relatively little about it as a spatial system. I am exploring how segregation shaped the American built environment to understand more fully the experience of segregation, especially from the perspective of the everyday life of African Americans.

My interest in the preservation of African-American heritage began soon after I moved to South Carolina, with a project that researched how museums and historic sites were remembering the modern civil rights movement. My study discovered that much was being interpreted but the commemoration was selective: non-violent protest with integrationist goals was privileged over armed resistance and separatist ideologies, for example.

Questions of memory – and historical amnesia – were central to a study in Centralia, Washington, a community haunted by a bloody labor confrontation that had been erased from official memory. "History, He Wrote: Murder, Politics, and the Challenges of Public History in a Community with a Secret" analyzed a personal effort to encourage acknowledgment of a dangerous past.

My reflections on the recent trend for the present to apologize for the past appeared as “The Power of Apology and the Process of Historical Reconciliation”. It analyzes how history often makes the headlines today: in discussions of the modern utility of apologizing for historical injustice.

One way that societies seek to shape collective memory is through the enterprise of historic preservation. Historic Preservation for a Living City: Historic Charleston Foundation, 1947-1997 examines the national impact of twentieth-century initiatives in Charleston. Kapi’olani Park: A History analyzes Honolulu’s “Central Park” from its royal origins to present-day restoration; the circumstances under which it was published are described in “The Risks of Professionalizing Local History: The Campaign to Suppress My Book.”

These scholarly interests shape the research I direct in my historic preservation courses in the Public History Program: Prized Pieces of Land: The Impact of Reconstruction on African-American Land Ownership in Lower Richland County, South Carolina; the award-winning Camden African-American Heritage Project; and the influential "Historic Resources Associated with Segregation in Columbia, South Carolina."

Positions

Present Professor of History, University of South Carolina - Columbia
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Disciplines


Research Interests

Public History and Historic Preservation

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Articles (5)

Books (2)

Public History Reports (1)

Essays (2)