Refining Memory: Sugar, oil and plantation tourism on Louisiana’s River Road

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This article explores the contemporary mediation of memory at two plantation heritage sites on Louisiana’s River Road. These sites, I argue, are systematically ‘refining’ cultural memories of African American enslavement, in a metaphorical echo of the industrial processing of commodities (oil and sugar) which takes place in the same landscape. The essay draws on initial informal ethnographic fieldwork at Oak Alley (the most-visited River Road plantation) and St Joseph (a working plantation) in 2015. I identify ways in which curatorial direction, guided tours and visitor facilities at each site elide the reality of slave sugar production. The results of this fieldwork are considered in light of a range of existing literature on contested heritage and environmental criticism, enabling a provisional contextualisation of ‘refined’ memory-making within the broader socio-economic and environmental context of River Road.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)752-766
JournalMemory Studies
Issue number4
Early online date9 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020


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