Presumed black immunity to yellow fever and the racial politics of burial labour in 1855 Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia
Michael D. Thompson
Epidemic disease regularly tore through nineteenth-century American cities, triggering public health crises and economic upheaval. These epidemic panics also provoked new racialised labour regimes, affecting the lives of innumerable working people. During yellow fever outbreaks, white authorities and employers preferred workers of colour over ‘unacclimated’ white immigrants, reflecting a common but mistaken belief in black invulnerability. This article chronicles enslaved burial labourers in antebellum Virginia, who leveraged this notion to seize various privileges – and nearly freedom. These episodes demonstrate that black labour, though not always black suffering or lives, mattered immensely to white officials managing these urban crises. Black workers were not mere tools for protecting white wealth and health, however, as they often risked torment and death to capitalise on employers’ desperation for their essential labour. This history exposes racial and socioeconomic divergence between those able to shelter or flee from infection, and those compelled to remain exposed and exploitable.
resulted in a perceptibly diverse staff, in terms of gender, ethnicity, race,
sexual orientation and age. The composition of, not least, the educational
staff, who performed all front-of-house functions, proved, I think, essential
for the audience building and community building of the new museum.
In its first incarnation in 2005, the Museum of World Culture was a
vibrant and rather magical place, diverse beyond anyone’s expectation,
inclusive in its somewhat funky, contemporary metropolitanism and internationalism, bringing together distant or
Remaking the ethnographic museum in the global contemporary
Viv Golding and Wayne Modest
citizen-subjects, whether raced, classed or gendered, are governed, included
or excluded.7 Our work was informed by the robust scholarly work in the
humanities and social sciences, and in postcolonial and critical theory that
Thinking and working through difference
located the museum within a broader political landscape where definitions
of cultural heritage formed part of contestations about how to define and
who to include within the category of the citizen.
In 2013, when we pointed to what Rajagopalen Rhadakrishnan terms
the economically ‘uneven’ world,8 and
-Anatomical Institute’ (Fischer 2012 : 101–2). The very phenomenon that made them notable, infamous even, and drove their recovery, reporting and collection was now stripped away to reveal something more essential about the individual. That essence was ‘race’.
Craniology was the technique of measuring human skulls to reveal their racial or ethnic type, emerging in Scandinavia in parallel with Thomsen’s artefact-based, typological approach (Morse 2005 : 98). It was Eschrict’s invention of the cephalic index that particularly caught the imagination of British scholars, publicised
the mill was powered by a small, fast-flowing stream. This stream was obstructed by a dam to create a reservoir, or millpond. From this, a channel, or mill race, ran to the mill building itself (Rynne, 2003 ). The benefit of a race over a natural stream was that the water supply could be better managed to prevent flood damage (Lucas, 1953 ).
A millpond, sometimes referred to as a stagnum , was an attractive option because it had the side effect of functioning as a fishery. The millpond was the most popular way of powering water mills in
1989, students had few texts to consult and,
of those, many were repetitive, focussing on a few key names, generally
‘great men’ of archaeology credited with being the ‘father’ of whatever
archaeology they espoused. The studies had little to offer more rigorous
and theoretical archaeologists, particularly those interested in gender,
race or class and how those with more marginal status access archaeology. In this climate, A History of Archaeological Thought quickly
became a seminal work, the go-to textbook for students, lecturers and
researchers. While it is
that artificial intelligence systems incorporate the stereotypes and biases of the dominant society in which they are created, reinforcing the oppression of minority populations (Noble 2018 ). Similarly, genetic advances, once hailed as the last nails in the coffin for racial stereotypes, seem to feed into race thinking as much as they provide critiques of it (Wailoo et al . 2012 ). Mark Zuckerberg once exhorted us to “move fast and break things,” but with the recent revelations regarding election hacking, data gathering, and racist radicalization facilitated by
Conal McCarthy, Arapata Hakiwai, and Philipp Schorch
-Cultural Perspective’, in
S. Macdonald (ed.), A Companion to Museum Studies (Malden, MA: Blackwell
Publishing, 2006), pp. 457–72.
8 C. McCarthy, ‘Theorising Museum Practice through Practice Theory: Museum
Studies as Intercultural Practice’, in P. Burnard, L. McKinlay and K. Powell
(eds), Routledge International Handbook of Intercultural Arts Research (London
and New York: Routledge, 2016), pp. 24–34.
9 J. Belich, ‘Myth, Race and Identity in New Zealand’, New Zealand Journal of
History, 31:1 (1997), 12, www.nzjh.auckland.ac.nz/docs/1997/NZJH_31_1_04.
The changing role of migration museums in Australia
person rather than the establishment, reflecting the new social
history then emerging and its focus on class, race and gender.
Thus, as a piece written to advertise the new museum and call for donations in a variety of South Australian newspapers put it, visitors:
will start at a port of departure in England in the 19th Century, and then
move into a gallery about early settlement. There, they can discover the
number of different groups and individuals who made the long journey to
settle in South Australia like the Germans, Poles, and Chinese, or the Afghan
’, while a certain ‘J. W.’ is cited as the last of ‘an ancient race of boggart seers … [who] used to combat with feeorin’ (cited in Higson 1859 : 68, 69). Other measures might need to be taken: Eyre ( 1974 : 34) reports that the large sandstone block that gave ‘Written Stone Lane’ its name in Longridge was supposedly used to entrap a boggart, carved with the perpetual warning that ‘RAVFFE RACLIFFE LAID THIS STONE TO LYE FOR EVER AD 1655’. Whether or not this was its original purpose, attempts to remove or reuse it have not ended well, so it lies there still.