Black Life in Bellevue: Documenting African American Cultural Landscape Along the Chesapeake Bay
Washington College’s Center for Environment and Society and its Past is Present Initiative will partner with Bellevue Village, located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in Talbot County, and the Bellevue Passage Museum, to conduct a field school aimed at using the venue’s cultural landscape to advance historical understanding and cultural conservation of an African American community, whose aspirations and development were shaped by the Chesapeake estuarine environment.
The Field School is driven to give African Americans the tools and experience to research their heritage and design interpretive programming and tourism that will benefit their communities.
The materials generated through these exercises were used to create history exhibits and public programming for the Bellevue Passage Museum, as well as serving as resources for heritage tourism in the area. In addition to these outcomes, field school exercises contributed to the design of a web-based presence for the museum and the community’s wider history, along with providing greater vision for how such documentary work can facilitate cultural conservation and community identity in Bellevue.
About the Program
This field school was inspired by the Bellevue community’s commitment to its African American history and the curatorial vision of longtime resident Colonel William DeShields, U.S. Army-retired. His lifetime commitment to collecting Bellevue’s historical materials highlights the power of community-driven initiatives and underscores why the curatorial care of the historical landscape is critical in advancing a fuller understanding of the places and spaces that animated Bellevue’s African American life.
Led by field school co-directors Michael Chiarappa, Ph.D. and Janet Sheridan, M.A.
and community coordinators Drs. Dennis and Mary DeShields, students were immersed
in Bellevue’s historical/cultural resources and its contemporary cultural life. Residing
and working in Bellevue for four weeks, students learned the skills required to document
cultural landscapes—measuring, drawing, and photographing buildings, using historic
documents and visual materials, and conducted oral histories with longtime residents.
Complementing these approaches, students were introduced to new methodologies that
employ geographic information systems (mapping), computer-aided recording and visual
presentation, and other digital technology that serveed to gather and utilize information
that will used to present Bellevue’s history and its cultural significance along the