Social Representational Communities and the Imagined Antebellum South

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Tourists come to museums with varied expectations and leave appreciating different aspects of their presentations. Thus, tourists/audiences are primed to see, hear, and experience certain representations and narratives when they enter museums. This is particularly so with plantation museums. Most Americans possess at the very least a vague sense of the antebellum South. They have a vague sense of a time and of a place populated by wealthy and esteemed plantation owners and their Black enslaved labor. We use, as our raw material, visitors’ responses to the question: “What is your level of interest in..,” ten topics related to plantations’ presentations. This question was asked of visitors returning from tours at three plantation museums. Specifically, all three differ in their presentation of enslavement and as so, have been selected to represent the spectrum of plantation museums in regards to presentation of slavery and enslaved labor. It is expected that the differences in presentations at the three sites reflect differences in plantation audiences. To this effect, plantation audiences are mapped and viewed through the framework of social representation theory in an attempt to discern social representation communities using visitors’ levels of interest in topics/items presented on plantation tours at sites. Disregarding incidental cultural tourists, we found there to be basically two social representations that visitors to these three plantation museums hold: a nostalgic social representation and a Janus social representation.