The Rubric

Deliverable from the 2018 National Summit on Teaching Slavery

A study by The Southern Poverty Law Center found that the topic of slavery is often mistaught, from factual errors to misrepresentation of how the institution of slavery shaped fundamental beliefs and modern views of race.

In February 2018, a group of 49 educators, curators, scholars, activists, museum and historic site professionals, and descendants of people who were once enslaved gathered at James Madison’s Montpelier at the inaugural National Summit on Teaching Slavery.

This partnership between James Madison’s Montpelier and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, was the first national, interdisciplinary effort to formulate a recognized model for best practices in descendant engagement and slavery interpretation.
What the partnership aimed to do, was to build a model for descendant engagement at historic sites that is rooted in best practices for historical research, community dialogue, exhibition design, and historic preservation, drawn from experiences during the creation of The Mere Distinction of Color.

Over the course of a weekend the group engaged in discussions and debates about the best ways to teach the history and legacies of slavery. They also pondered the seminal question of “how can descendants of the enslaved play a role in sharing the experiences of their ancestors?”

The end product of the Summit, The Rubric builds a scalable methodology that sites can utilize to rate themselves as they engage descendant communities in their work.

The Rubric contains concrete steps to ensure quality research, make connections and maintain relationships with descendants, and create inclusive, and accurate, authentic, and empathetic exhibitions, practices, and programs. It offers museums a place to start addressing difficult themes and the traumatic legacies of slavery. One of the most important aspects of The Rubric is that it insists sites work with descendants of the enslaved as partners and advisors at every step to ensure that they are interpreting slavery in a manner that is effective, informative, and respectful of the experiences of the enslaved.