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The Clientage Model, as defined by Dr. Michael Blakey and his team, is one in which the archaeologists give the descendants (the ethical client) primacy in defining the research and interpretive agenda directed towards their ancestral material record. We have strove to have descendants guide our approach to the archaeological record at Montpelier. One of the more significant questions descendants have raised is how the archaeological record reflects their ancestors’ intellectual contributions. This has helped us rethink our approach to interpreting the archaeological record--and moved us towards an archaeology of intellectual labor across the landscape. In this presentation, I will explore the insights gleaned from this perspective and how this has changed our collective understanding of the plantation landscape--both for staff archaeologists and for descendants. From this work, descendants have termed the larger archaeological record as an ancestral memory device and have become a primary partner in preserving this resource.

Matthew Reeves is the Director of Archaeology at James Madison’s Montpelier in Orange, Virginia since 2000.  His specialty is sites of the African Diaspora including plantation and freedman period sites, and Civil War sites For his dissertation, Reeves researched and excavated two early 19th century Jamaican slave settlements and spent over two years living and working within the rural descendant community he was studying.

Prior to Montpelier, he led archaeological projects in upstate New York, southern Maryland, and for the National Park Service at Manassas Battlefield. In his 20 years at Montpelier, Reeves has developed a strong public archaeology program known for its citizen science approach to research. At the heart of this program is community-based research with a heavy focus on investing descendant communities in the research and interpretation process and governance of cultural institutions. He has also led the archaeological discipline in devising new ways to engage metal detector hobbyists and archaeological survey through his department’s work locating the living and work sites of the enslaved community across the 2700-acre Montpelier property. These new site discoveries hold the future for Montpelier continuing to tell the story of the enslaved community.

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