by Jodi Skipper
University of Iowa Press
March 22, 2022
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. Behind the Big House gives readers a candid, behind-the-scenes look at what it really takes to interpret the difficult history of slavery in the U.S. South. The book explores Jodi Skipper’s 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.
In laying out her experiences through an autoethnographic approach, Skipper seeks to help other activist scholars of color negotiate the nuances of place, the academic public sphere, and its ambiguous systems of reward, recognition, and evaluation.
“Behind the Big House has the heart of a gorgeous memoir and the bones of our most evocative scholarly texts. Jodi Skipper meets readers and monuments where we are, and chronicles superbly what it means to make, destroy, and really rebuild a region’s history. Stunning work.”
—Kiese Laymon, author, Heavy: An American Memoir
“Skipper has illuminated for us one of the most pressing issues in American identity—how we reckon with our own original sin of enslavement. More than that, she’s illuminating a path to redemption lit by thoughtful engagement, open eyes, and open hearts. This book is the intersection of mindfulness and hope.”
—Michael W. Twitty, James Beard Award–winning author, The Cooking Gene
“Part memoir, part communal autoethnography, part history, and all activism, Behind the Big House presents historic preservation as a form of memory activism. In Skipper’s telling, a local effort to preserve the legacy of slavery wends through classrooms, national nonprofits, ill-fitting academic benchmarks, and intimate friendships. Historic preservation—and Skipper herself—emerge as models for work in the public humanities.”
—Dave Tell, author, Remembering Emmett Till
“Skipper’s book is a grassroots level journey into prioritizing the lives of enslaved people in historic preservation and historic representations in Holly Springs, Mississippi, and nationally. Behind the Big House is a hands-on research project and heritage tourism destination that has brought people together for impactful conversations about race.”
—Antoinette T. Jackson, author, Heritage, Tourism, and Race: The Other Side of Leisure
About the Author
Jodi Skipper is an applied anthropologist at the University of Mississippi who explores the representation of African American lives through material culture. Her theoretical approach draws on contextual emphases in public history, public archaeology, and cultural representations in museum studies. Dr. Skipper established a foundation for intersecting these fields through her dissertation work on the St. Paul United Methodist Church, a historically African American church in the Dallas, Texas, arts district. She examined the church community’s prospects of preserving its historic building and historical legacy through two heritage projects—one in which archaeologists excavated a shotgun house site on the church property and a public history project in which she created an interpretive history exhibition on the church. During her time at the University of Mississippi, Dr. Skipper extended her focus by investigating how African American historic sites interact with the production of heritage in tourism spaces through two new projects, the Behind the Big House program in Marshall County, Mississippi and the Promiseland Historic Preservation project in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana.
Her research interests include African diaspora anthropology, historic sites management, historical archaeology, museum and heritage studies, and southern studies. More specifically, she explores how African American pasts are represented in the present. She is co-editor of Navigating Souths: Transdisciplinary Explorations of a U.S. Region.