Middle Tennessee State University public history alumna Katherine Crawford-Lackey took a historic preservation approach to her role at founding father James Madison’s estate in Virginia, working to safeguard an honest and inclusive history at a National Historic Landmark.
“It begins with addressing historical erasure” said Crawford-Lackey, a 2020 graduate of MTSU’s Public History Ph.D. Program. “It requires practitioners to dig deeper, to question what they don’t know about the past, to peel back the layers and discover what has long been buried. My professors at MTSU were crucial in helping me understand this.”
Crawford-Lackey, along with her colleagues at Montpelier, Madison’s historical home and grounds, most recently received the President’s Award from the NAACP branch in Culpeper, Virginia.
The award recognized their work for fighting to uphold the Montpelier Foundation board of directors’ 2021 commitment to provide structural parity on the board for the Montpelier Descendants Committee, or MDC, which consists of descendants of people enslaved at Montpelier and nearby plantations.
“When the Montpelier Foundation board voted to rescind the parity agreement in early 2022, the MDC and many Montpelier staff challenged the decision,” Crawford-Lackey said. “By addressing the importance of descendants having equal say in the stewardship of Montpelier, the MDC and staff moved the institution forward.
“That May, the foundation board elected new members from a slate of candidates advanced by the MDC. MDC-nominated board members now make up most of the Montpelier Foundation board, forming the first descendant-led board at a historic site in the U.S.”
Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Crawford-Lackey has been passionate about history since completing her undergraduate degrees in history and anthropology at the University of Cincinnati in 2012.
Before starting her role at the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution in 2021, part of the Montpelier Foundation that stewards the estate, Crawford-Lackey chose to pursue and earned her public history doctorate at MTSU.
“MTSU has one of the most prestigious public history programs in the country,” she said. “It offers opportunities to engage in different types of public history work, including historic preservation, museum management, archival management, oral history and public archaeology. Through its recognition of historical archaeology as a critical component of public history work, MTSU is furthering this interdisciplinary approach field-wide.”
Crawford-Lackey said the high-caliber faculty and interdisciplinary nature of the university’s Department of History are its greatest strengths.
“I had the opportunity to learn from some of the best minds in their fields — history, archaeology, preservation and more.”
More thriving program alumni, students
Dr. Kathryn Sikes, an associate history professor at MTSU and the doctoral program’s historical archaeologist, said Crawford-Lackey was a standout student.
“I now have the pleasure of assigning some of her published work in my graduate classes,” Sikes said.
The program’s coursework is designed to inspire work like Crawford-Lackey’s, Sikes said.
“Graduate students in our program … engage with racial reconciliation and social justice in the context of assessments of representation and the critical revision of cultural resource management. Case studies like the restructuring of Montpelier’s board inform their studies of public history ethics.”
Sikes said several more program alumni are thriving in high-level positions across state and federal agencies, prominent museums, other historic sites and universities.
Other recent award winners from the program include current student Madeline Artibee, who received a Fulbright award to complete doctoral residency work in Croatia; alumna Katie Clary, who won the Eugene Asher Distinguished Teaching Award last year from the American Historical Association; and alumna Sade Turnipseed, who was named Diversity Educator of the Year at Mississippi Valley State University, she said.
To learn more about the opportunities in the Public History Ph.D. Program at MTSU, visit the website at www.mtsu.edu/programs/public-history-phd. To learn more about Montpelier, visit www.montpelier.org.
— Stephanie Wagner (Stephanie.Wagner@mtsu.edu)
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