Dr. Kelley Fanto Deetz founded The Shared History Project in 2016 after a decade of teaching university courses on race and slavery, and giving public lectures. Through her work in archaeology, academia, and community engagement, Dr. Deetz realized the importance of sharing the knowledge found in the academia with people outside of the “ivory tower”. Similarly, there are rich oral histories and knowledge about the past held within local communities that are equally as important as those presented by academics.
The Shared History project is a collaborative initiative that facilitates conversations about the history and legacy of slavery in the United States. Guided by the Ghanaian concept Sankofa (go back and fetch it), which emphasizes the importance of looking to the past to understand the present, this project brings people together to remember and discuss our shared histories. We use the power of place to stage these dialogues and to create an atmosphere of honesty and openness. We facilitate workshops on plantations to allow for collective voices to reflect, acknowledge, and discuss the roots of our nation and of the social and cultural world we inhabit. These locations are inherently complex and evoke emotional responses from everyone; making them the ideal place to honestly reflect on our shared history.
We are approaching the 400th anniversary of the first Africans arriving to Virginia in 1619, and after 400 years race continues to fuel tensions between and among people. Professional historians have failed in defining our pasts in ways that truly effect change and lend perspectives that aid in public understandings of our past. The Shared History Project trusts that shared knowledge combined with facilitated workshops and dialogues redefines preconceived notions about our history and inspires mutual understanding and respect between people.
African American history is often left out of mainstream history, and in particular at plantation museums. This project hopes to assist museums in creating a more holistic story about their sites by including the narratives from every perspective, in order to create a more honest depiction of the past.