ACCURATE-ISH


Student
Ruth Blair Moyers

Advisor 
Deborah Garcia

Readers
Garnette Cadogan
Nicholas de Monchaux
Looking at contemporary American historical sites, this thesis writes an operational epilogue on the highly constructed landscapes of memory in the United States. The current models of preservation in practice are centered on addition and expansion of what has value, but there is a hesitation that lingers around the notion of deconstruction, or devaluation of historical places. In practice, acts of removal or reconstruction come from moments of rupture, rather than a continuous process of reevaluation. This thesis is interested in the design of collapse, in revealing, and in allowing the uncanny to exist in ways that begin to make place for subaltern narratives to leak into and overwhelm spaces of colonial history.

This thesis sits within Colonial Williamsburg®, a 301 acre open air “living-history” museum in Virginia. It is a destination for heritage tourism, located within a two-hour driving radius of Washington, D.C., Richmond and Charlottesville — all central sites of historical myths of the United States, and all of which have recently become sites of rupture (protest, rallies).. The reconstruction of the colonial town in Williamsburg originally began as the passion project of a local clergyman, and was realized with the support of J.D. Rockefeller Jr. among others invested in its narratives. The goal of restoration was to bring history to life, but it also conveniently served in repairing the self-image of a place that was experiencing economic and cultural instability following the Great Depression and the end of Reconstruction in the American South. These plays for settler-colonial nostalgia led to a highly constructed and deeply amnesic experience designed by and for a singular audience to be easily dramatized and repeated.

This constructed imaging of history has been retained in much of Colonial Williamsburg®’s programming as a tourist destination with contemporary retail, hospitality and entertainment venues. And while time seems to be frozen in this place, there are already subtle insistences of difference in moments of landscaping, planning and structures. By proposing a series of canny and uncanny alterations to Colonial Williamsburg®, this thesis will begin to pull at the seams of a place that holds “accuracy” at the center of its operations, not through a restorative nostalgic criticism, but through a series of reflections, refractions and destabilizing realities. What might happen if we hold a mirror up to a place, and ask it to see itself?