The ecological history of Duke Forest is embedded within the human history of plantation agriculture, fueled by violent chattel slavery. Hallmark insights about river ecology, biodiversity, community succession, and climate change have come from research in Duke Forest, but what are the conditions that have allowed such research to take place? How does the historical context of the land and people on it affect knowledge production? What stake do researchers have in that history? Through the creation of a public outdoors exhibit at the Robeson Mill site at Duke Forest, Unearthing Duke Forest hopes to highlight those peoples that have been displaced, removed, or expunged from the Forest’s archive.

Convened by doctoral students Kathleen Burns (English), Renata Poulton Kamakura (Nicholas), and Anita Simha (Biology), Unearthing Duke Forest began in Fall 2020 as an FHI Graduate Working Group. UDF is an interdisciplinary endeavor to investigate the broader historical conditions through which research in Duke Forest has been rendered possible. In Spring 2021, the project was awarded a Duke Endowment Reckoning with Race, Racism, and the History of the American South grant by the Office of the Provost, with Prof. Kathleen Donohue (Biology) serving as lead faculty PI. In Summer 2022, UDF will sponsor a Story+ project with the goal of creating a digital companion to the outdoors exhibit at Robeson Mill.