Racializing Assemblages and History Making: Why the Black Regulars of Fort Davis’ Past is Told the Way it is…

Lecture: ARF Brownbag: Other Cal Archaeology | September 27 | 12-1 p.m. |  2251 College (Archaeological Research Facility)

 Laurie Wilkie, Department Chair and Professor, University of California, Berkeley Department of Anthropology

 Archaeological Research Facility

Racializing assemblages are those sets of practices and policies employed by governments, institutions, and society to enforce and naturalize racial inequalities. In the summer of 2017, using Stahl research funds, I was able to spend 10 days in the National Archives investigating documentary traces left by the black regulars of Fort Davis. The experience left me thinking broadly about the ways the processes that shape the construction of the archive, the ways military historians privilege particular types of documents and certain voices that result in stories about the past that replicate current inequalities. Archaeologists are no strangers to discussions about the ways we live amongst ruins or how the past is used to create the present. While historians critically engage with past historiographical movements that reinforced biases of the time, it is in African-American and Ethnic studies where the nature of the archive’s creation is more likely to be considered. In trying to understand holistically the ways that the histories of Fort Davis’ black regulars have been told, I have found the concept of racializing assemblages to be extremely useful. The racializing assemblage that shapes history making surrounding these men include the prevalence of what I call racializing narratives, attitudes of white supremacy, archival and commemoration practices that obscure or physically destroy traces of black history, and drawing on the work of Mel Chen, what I see as the weaponization of animacy hierarchies. In this talk, I will discuss how black soldiers have been intentionally erased from the landscape of Fort Davis, provide an example of how the National Archive’s curation procedures have obscured the documentary materials produced by black soldiers, and finally, will discuss the case of Corporal Daniel Tallifero, a man who was killed at Fort Davis, and the ways historians have failed to recognize the problematic sources surrounding the events surrounding his death.

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