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Cambridge Heritage Research Centre


Co-Creating Counternarratives: Foundations for Just Planning & Preservation

Dr Andrea Roberts (University of Virginia)

This will be a hybrid event held in-person at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Downing Street, Cambridge and Online on Zoom. 

To Registration to attend online click to here


Narratives inform our approach to setting national priorities, creating inclusive public history and education, and transforming monumental landscapes. The 1619 Project challenged America’s foundational narratives, while the propagation of reactionary American narratives mobilized forces who threatened the continuity of democratic government on January 6. America’s operating assumptions about people, places, and power are embedded in various narratives that inform the discourse on climate adaptation, systemic racism, gender identity, and infrastructure needs. Consequently, planners, preservationists, and infrastructure planners must contend with operating assumptions. This process must make space for co-creating counternarratives to help prevent cultural erasure, yield intersectional solutions, and foster authentic consultation with all stakeholders. Co-creating new creation and policy narratives are foundational to equitable practice. 

This talk presents The Texas Freedom Colonies Project Atlas, a case study in applied, justice-centered counternarrative and countermapping work. Freedom colonies, historic Black settlements whose dispersed, surviving descendants endeavor to preserve their communities, exist at the intersection of growth pressure, chronic underdevelopment, and co-located endangered historic sites. The Project’s Atlas crowdsources public data, memories, and stories about disappearing, previously undocumented settlements and co-constructs counternarratives arguing for settlements’ historic significance, thereby correcting planning and preservation assumptions that lead to the erasure and destruction of these places. The Project’s documentation, surveying, and engaged scholarship have identified previously unrecognized historic settlements, illuminated infrastructure needs—broadband, improved water and sewer systems—and increased the likelihood that preservation and planning confront the existence of vulnerable Black cemeteries and structures during transportation planning. The presenter discusses plans to expand the lessons learned in new contexts, including the mid-Atlantic region.  


Dr. Andrea Roberts is an Associate Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning and Co-Director of the School’s Center for Cultural Landscapes at the University of Virginia’s (UVA) School of Architecture. Before joining UVA, Dr. Roberts was an Associate Professor of Urban Planning at Texas A&M University (TAMU). She is a scholar-activist who brings 12 years of experience in community development, nonprofit administration, and advocacy to her engaged research and public scholarship. In 2014, she founded The Texas Freedom Colonies Project, the vehicle through which she mentors and trains future planners, preservationists, scholars, and community-based researchers to challenge freedom colony invisibility, environmental injustice, and land loss through heritage conservation. She and her team richly map these settlements via the interactive The Texas Freedom Colonies Project™ Atlas and Study, which spatializes sites’ histories through participatory action research methods, including oral histories. The Project and related scholarship are part of her work to propagate interdisciplinary research and pedagogical frameworks, including Critical Place Studies and Diasporic, Black Feminist, and African American Planning Studies.

She has received awards for her engaged scholarship from The Vernacular Architecture Forum and the Urban Affairs Association. Roberts was a 2020-21 Whiting Public Engagement Fellow, an African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund grant recipient, and a 2020 Visiting Scholar at Yale’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, Abolition. Most recently, she served as Co-Project Director for the 2022 NEH Summer Institute for Higher Education Faculty—"Towards a People's History of Landscape: Part 1: Black & Indigenous Histories of the Nation's Capital.”

Dr. Roberts is also the Consultant/Owner of Freedom Colonies Project, LLC, which provides research services to preservation organizations and public design projects. She served as a Texas State Board of Review member and a National Monument Audit Advisory Board member. Currently, Dr. Roberts is a Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies Advisory Board member. She holds a Ph.D. in planning from The University of Texas at Austin (2016), an M.A. in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania (2006), and a B.A. in political science from Vassar College (1996). She is currently authoring a book, Never Sell the Land, about her experiences identifying Black planning and historic preservation practices that sustain cultural resilience within freedom colonies for The University of Texas Press. 

Thursday, 4 May, 2023 - 13:00
Event location: 
HYBRID: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Seminar Room and Online on Zoom