3. Your research blog illustrates a lot of your work with the duplex, both historical and physical archaeology, from examining the use of space both before and after emancipation, to how window glass represented an improvement in the quality of life. What do you think has been your most surprising find?
The window glass was actually very surprising. Not so much that there was glass, or that the data indicated that it was added immediately after the Civil War to the building. I expected to see that, since I figured it would be a relatively simple upgrade to a building. What I didn’t expect to see was the fact that the African Americans who lived their were using used windows salvaged from other buildings. While it makes sense afterwards, actually seeing it in the data was pretty neat. It adds another dimension to the situation: it highlights how they were looking to make improvements, looking to emphasize this newfound freedom, but also how financially difficult and straining this was for them. Remember: these people were working up from practically nothing. This is a theme that I see in other places, too. For example, the pursuit of education after the War. We knew that Brome, the former slaveowner, had donated land to become an African American school. This was actually not as surprising as it sounds… a lot of wealthy planters did this. Part of it was to provide a good reason for their former slaves to stick around as sharecroppers: they knew they wanted schools, so they offered to provide land for that to happen. The school, by the way, is where St. James Deli is now. At any rate, I located some documents from the Freedman’s Bureau that talk about the exuberance of the African American community in St. Mary’s County for supporting these schools. Black carpenters donated their time to build them. The meetings held by the Bureau officials were packed. When the community was told that the Bureau could no longer pay for teachers, they raised the money right then and there: an amazing feat considering these are the same people who are salvaging windows to fix up their homes. It really brings home the sense of urgency for education and freedom that existed. You could just tell that these people had been waiting for this moment, and weren’t going to let it slip away.
4. You emphasize that the blog is meant to be interactive. In the ‘Talk Together’ section of pages you even include questions for consideration. How has reader comments and feedback been so far? Has there been any particularly interesting discussion?