Behind the Big House—Preserving and Interpreting the Material History of Slavery in the U.S.

Apr 21, 2022

03:00 PM - 04:30 PM

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Behind the Big House book cover

When residents and tourists visit sites of slavery, whose stories are told? All too often the lives of slaveowners are centered, obscuring the lives of enslaved people. Jodi Skipper’s new book, Behind the Big House, candidly documents her eight-year collaboration with the Behind the Big House program, a community-based model used at local historic sites to address slavery in the collective narrative of U.S. history and culture. As an academic, Skipper also seeks to help other activist scholars of color negotiate public scholarship with the nuances of place, the academic public sphere, and its ambiguous systems of reward, recognition, and evaluation. For this discussion, Skipper, an associate professor of Anthropology and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi, examines what it takes to interpret the difficult history of slavery in the U.S. South. She will be joined by two national leaders in preserving the material traces of enslaved people and their descendants: Assistant professor of Urban Planning at Texas A&M University and founder of the Texas Freedom Colonies Project Andrea Roberts, and preservation architect and founder of the Saving Slave Houses project Jobie Hill.

This virtual event is free and open to all. Registration is required.

Behind the Big House is the sixth book in the University of Iowa Press/Obermann Center for Advanced Studies Humanities and Public Life series. Read more about the book and order a copy at the UI Press website. Get 25% off through May 29 with code BHB25.

Speaker Bios:

Jodi Skipper is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi. Her research seeks to understand how historic preservation projects might play a role in imagining more sustainable and healthy futures for U.S. southern communities. During her time at the University of Mississippi, she has worked with Behind the Big House, a slave dwelling interpretation program in Mississippi, which expanded to the state of Arkansas. To help develop the program as a replicable model, Skipper developed a “Best Practices for Interpreting Slavery” workshop and corresponding website, behindthebighouse.org, that serves as a how to guide for local communities interested in creating their own slavery interpretation programs.  

Andrea Roberts is Assistant Professor of Urban Planning and Associate Director of the Center for Housing & Urban Development at Texas A&M University. She founded the Texas Freedom Colonies Project, a research & social justice initiative documenting placemaking history and grassroots preservation practices in the African Diaspora. For more information, see the Texas Freedom Colony Atlas (http://bit.ly/txfcpatlastwo), a statewide countermapping and urban humanities project.

Jobie Hill is a licensed preservation architect with over fifteen years of professional experience. In her work, she examines the architecture of slavery, the influence these dwellings had on the lives of their inhabitants, and the preservation of the history of enslaved people. Her organization, Saving Slave Houses, seeks to ensure that slave houses, irreplaceable pieces of history, are not lost forever.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa–sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact in advance at