America's Hallowed Ground (2023-2024)


America’s Hallowed Ground (AHG) is a new project within Duke’s Kenan Institute for Ethics. Partnering with communities, the project helps lift historic sites of national significance into the national conversation through multidisciplinary arts projects. Of particular interest are sites where people died or were bloodied in attempts to complete the “unfinished work” of American democracy. For example, AHG’s first partnership is located in Wilmington, North Carolina, where white supremacists staged a violent coup in 1898 to suppress the growing political power of African Americans. The project will expand to research additional sites across the United States.  

One component of AHG’s work focuses on K-12 education. In the past two years, legislative bodies — from local school boards to state legislatures to Congress — have sought to restrict teaching about race and racism in K-12 curricula. At least 36 states, including North Carolina, have adopted or introduced laws or policies to this effect, with the result that critical aspects of local, regional and national history are under threat in K-12 education.

New community resources and K-12 curricula that use the arts as a means of communicating about the origins and consequences of our racial divides are needed to face threats of erasure and distortion of history.

Project Description

This project team will work with America’s Hallowed Ground to create a community toolkit and K-12 curricula for communities that want to explore multidisciplinary arts and storytelling as a way to investigate historical sites and explore the origins and consequences of racial division in the United States. 

Once AHG identifies a historical site and community of interest, the team will run a series of workshops for local artists and interested community members. The workshops will be facilitated by professionals who have experience in producing artworks as a way of helping communities come to terms with the full scope of their history. Team members will translate the intersection of community-engaged historical research and artistic expression into a widely available community toolkit that will help other communities undertake similar efforts. The K-12 curricula will be tailored to local school systems connected with AHG sites.

Team members will explore the use of arts in teaching and develop videos and other teaching tools for the community toolkit and K-12 curricula, as well as social media campaigns to announce the availability of these tools and, more broadly, the work of AHG.

The project team’s work will be divided into three categories. While all of the team may be involved in each, AHG will need leaders in each of the following:

  1. Videography and Editing of the Visuals: Use workshop material and interviews with community members and artists to produce short, succinct materials for use as instructional aids for the community toolkit and K-12 curricula.
  2. K-12 Curricula: Design and write K-12 curricula in consultation with state public instruction experts and local teachers.
  3. Web Design/Digital Media: Help create the web platform that will house the community toolkit and K-12 curricula, through which the wider public will access AHG.

Anticipated Outputs

Field research in AHG communities; workshops for local artists; locally produced, multidisciplinary artistic works; toolkit for communities; K-12 curricula; web-based dissemination of artworks, toolkit and curricula; social media campaign

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this team will include 3 graduate and up to 9 undergraduate students. Graduate students from the disciplines of history, the arts, cultural anthropology, education, teaching and experimental and documentary arts would be strong candidates. Undergraduates from any discipline are encouraged to apply as long as they display an interest in the goals and work of AHG. Collectively, the team will need a broad array of skills in writing, videography and filmmaking, digital design and social media.

Students on the team will gain research skills in collaboration with scholars, artists, public instructors and community collaborators. They will also gain skills in media production, curriculum development, communications and/or social media management. Graduate students will have the opportunity to engage with the full scope of AHG, honing skills in ethnographic interviewing, filmmaking, writing and the multimedia presentation of research for general audiences. One graduate student will be selected to serve as project manager.

This project includes a possible summer component for all team members, who will be collaborating with various communities to create materials. The summer work will occur between mid-May and mid-August, with some flexibility regarding timing of student involvement. Hours will vary.

All team members will travel to Cherokee or Wilmington, NC, or an alternate site to conduct fieldwork during either the summer or the academic year.

In Fall 2023, the team will meet on Mondays at 7 p.m.


Summer 2023 – Spring 2024

  • Summer 2023 (optional): Collaborate with various communities to create materials
  • Fall 2023: Develop beta versions of visual teaching aids; finish drafts of community toolkit and K-12 curricula; develop beta version of web platform; plan for social media rollout
  • Spring 2024: Finalize versions of teaching aids; finalize versions of community toolkit and K-12 curricula; launch toolkit and curricula on web platform; roll out outreach plan


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available

See earlier related team, America’s Sacred Spaces (2018-2019).


Image: Wilmington historian Cynthia Brown gestures to an artwork at St. Stephen AME Church, by Huiyin Zhou

Woman stands and gestures to a framed picture on the wall showing portraits of people.

Team Leaders

  • Charles Thompson, Arts & Sciences-Cultural Anthropology
  • David Toole, Divinity School
  • Michael Wiley, Kenan Institute for Ethics

/graduate Team Members

  • Crystal Card, Masters of Public Policy
  • Tian Wang, Master of Management Studies
  • Lindsay Huth, Philosophy-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Rachel Kamis, Cultural Anthropology (AB)
  • Vishwa Veeraswamy
  • Irma Lopez-Calderon
  • Alexa Jimenez, Political Science (AB)
  • Jeffrey Hwang, Environmental Sci/Policy (AB)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Adriane Lentz-Smith, Arts & Sciences-History
  • Courtney Lewis, Arts & Sciences
  • David Malone, Arts & Sciences-Program in Education
  • Anne Whisnant, Social Science Research Institute

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Kevin Bitterman, Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA)
  • North Carolina Arts Council
  • Kendall Surfus, Independent Literacy Consultant and Curriculum Designer
  • Museum of the Cherokee Indian
  • Cherokee Historical Association