In the Shadow of the Big House: Twenty-First-Century Antebellum Slave Cabins and Heritage Tourism in Louisiana is a fine contribution to the literature on plantation museums and tourism, pushing forward questions about more wholly representing Black stories and experiences in the pre– and post–Civil War US South. Stephen Small’s research spans a few years (primarily 2007–11) with site visits, studies of official and unofficial records, and interviews with site management, interpreters, and docents, informing a robust discussion of the interpretation of enslavement in Louisiana.

Expanding the geographical understanding of slavery, Small selected sites in Natchitoches, Louisiana, drawing attention to the differences of enslavement and its legacy in different regions of the state. Additionally, he explains that his site selection was also due to the prominence of plantation museums with twenty-first century antebellum slave cabins in Natchitoches. These cabins became preserved as a part of the cultural landscape decades following emancipation, not because of their significance as former homes of Black people, but as “examples of disappearing cultural practice: log cabins” (48). Small compares the attention given to slave cabins and other structures where enslaved people lived or slept—what he refers to as a “continuum of coerced accommodations”—at Oakland Plantation, Magnolia Plantation, and Melrose Plantation (6). To do this, he considers how gender ideologies and practices are represented within and contribute to the structure of interpretation at these sites; the role of ethnic identity among the elite whites in Natchitoches, with connection to the unique multiracial hierarchy of the region; the role of “Black voices and Black visions” through words and art used to discuss the experiences of the enslaved; and the role of the state in the production and reproduction of public memory (17).

Chapter 1 discusses the history of enslavement and heritage in Natchitoches, from the era of antebellum slavery to the twentieth century efforts to increase tourism, emphasizing the cultural, social, and economic legacies at play in the region. Chapters 2 to 4 examine each of the study sites—Oakland Plantation, Magnolia Plantation, and Melrose Plantation—from their founding and operation in the antebellum era to their contemporary preservation, operation, and tourism. In these chapters, Small examines site tours to explore which narratives are presented through the respective interpretations and the depth of inclusion of the lives and experiences of the enslaved. For example, at Oakland Plantation, where sites of the enslaved and later Black residents were technically included, they were done with little personal information.

That being said, Small argues that Oakland and Magnolia Plantations both incorporate the cabins in which enslaved individuals slept or lived into their interpretation “because both sites were owned and operated by the National Park Service” (104). In contrast, Melrose Plantation is a privately owned and operated site. It also tells a different history of the plantation: that of being a writer’s and artist’s colony in the 1920s and 1930s. As a result, Small argues that the heritage tourism site engages in the “symbolic annihilation of slavery and the slave cabins, because slavery was marginalized, the cabins were not described as slave cabins but as cabins occupied by white writers in the 1930s, and little or nothing was said about the fact that there were many other spaces in which the enslaved slept or lived” (137).

In the conclusion, he points to the way that absences and silences related to the remembrance of enslavement, violence, and racism, regardless of intentionality, function to “marginalize, neglect, or erase Black people” in the plantation museum landscape (192). Small suggests that making sites more inclusive is among the goals of site management and staff, but the “thorniest obstacle remains how to remove the preoccupation and obeisance to a narrative of southern gentility, elite white lifestyles, paternalism and romance” (197). In the Afterword, Small recognizes that since this research began several years prior to publication, there has been substantial change at these plantation tourism sites, but he argues that the “underlying foundation of Southern gentility remains” (209).

In the Shadow of the Big House engages in an important discussion about changes in heritage tourism at plantation museums in a region that has received less study than other areas of the US South. Through the production and reproduction of historical narratives, provided especially through interpretation and exhibit text, this book explores how the inclusion of cabins and other places the enslaved lived and slept is not enough to elevate the voices of Black men and women whose stories have been marginalized in such spaces, preventing a full narrative from being presented to visitors (even if they may be reluctant to hear it). In the Shadow of the Big House is a contribution to the research on plantation tourism that will be beneficial to scholars and public historians, especially those working to explore the possibilities of going beyond basic inclusion and aim to truly elevate the “Black voices and Black visions” that shape our memory landscapes.

Katrina Stack, University of Tennessee Knoxville