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Vol. 1, No. 1: Fall 1994

Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery by John Michael Vlach (Review)

by Thomas W. Hanchett

University of North Carolina Press, 1993

All too often, architecture buffs interested in the plantations of the pre -Civil War South have focused only on the grand homes of the planters. Early in this century, when local landmark groups began moving to preserve important structures from the era of slavery, they saved the mansions but often let the outbuildings fall away. The result has been a skewed image of history, a loss of understanding of the plantation as a working farm. Equally important, selective preservation has obscured the vital role of African Americans as the plantation labor force—the South’s main economic engine. A joke that made the rounds among museum directors during the 1980s perfectly captured the resulting myopia. After a tour of a particularly grand antebellum plantation house, an appreciative couple is said to have remarked, “Wonderful place! Do you know if they had any help?”

This article appears as an abstract above, the complete article can be accessed in Project Muse
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