Black Life in Bellevue: Documenting African American Cultural Landscape Along the Chesapeake Bay. Invitation to Apply for Field School

Janet Sheridan's picture
Summer Program
July 3, 2023 to July 29, 2023
Maryland, United States
Subject Fields: 
African American History / Studies, Architecture and Architectural History, Environmental History / Studies, Historic Preservation, Public History

From July 3 to July 29, 2022, Washington College’s (Chestertown, MD) Center for Environment and Society and its Past is Present Initiative will partner with Bellevue Village, located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in Talbot County, and the Bellevue Passage Museum, to conduct a field school aimed at using the venue’s cultural landscape to advance historical understanding and cultural conservation of an African American community whose aspirations and development were shaped by the Chesapeake estuarine environment. This field school is inspired by the Bellevue community’s commitment to its African American history and the curatorial vision of longtime resident Colonel William DeShields, U.S. Army-retired. His lifetime commitment to collecting Bellevue’s historical materials highlights the power of community-driven initiatives and underscores why the curatorial care of the historical landscape is critical in advancing a fuller understanding of the places and spaces that animated Bellevue’s African American life.

The Eastern Shore of Maryland is shrouded in the immediate legacy Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, and Bellevue stands as a symbol of the quest for Black empowerment. From this locale, African American men and women availed themselves of the Chesapeake’s rich marine resources by working its waters, preparing the catch for market, building and using some of the region’s signature watercraft, and, in time, becoming one of the few places on the bay where Black-owned seafood processing companies were established. The places and spaces of Bellevue—its houses, businesses, churches, boats, landing sites, and streets—were culturally attuned to the Chesapeake’s environmental rhythms, a legacy of work and everyday life that shaped the village’s compelling identity.

Led by field school co-directors Michael Chiarappa, Ph.D. and Janet Sheridan, M.A., and community coordinators Drs. Dennis and Mary DeShields, students will be immersed in Bellevue’s historical/cultural resources and its contemporary cultural life. Residing and working in Bellevue for four weeks, students will learn the basic skills required to document cultural landscapes—measuring, drawing, and photographing buildings, using historic documents and visual materials, and conducting oral histories with longtime residents. The materials generated through these exercises will be used to create history exhibits and public programming for the Bellevue Passage Museum, as well as serving as resources for heritage tourism in the area. In addition to these outcomes, field school exercises will contribute to the design of a web-based presence for the museum and the community’s wider history, along with providing greater vision for how such documentary work can facilitate cultural conservation and community identity in Bellevue.

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Applications are invited from undergraduate and graduate students, as well as life-long learners. Participants can elect to take the field school for academic credit or as non-credit enrollees. Field school students can choose to receive undergraduate credit through Washington College, or they may choose to arrange independent study arrangements as undergraduate or graduate students at their home institutions. Students and practitioners from any number of disciplines or occupations are encouraged to apply, but must have an abiding interest in the buildings, places, and local history of African American life. Most importantly, this field school is driven to give African Americans the tools and experience to research their heritage and design interpretive programming and tourism that will benefit their communities and applicants should be committed to achieving these goals through their participation. Applicants should prepare a one or two page typewritten statement providing their contact information, relevant educational or occupational experience, and why they desire to participate in the field school. This information should be forwarded by email attachment to Dr. Michael Chiarappa at or by regular mail to the address listed below.

Supported by the Vernacular Architecture Forum and the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture through funding provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, students will incur no cost for any room, board, and transportation expenses associated with the field school. Additionally, each student will receive a stipend/living allowance during the four week session. Limited to nine students, each applicant will be interviewed either through on-line video conferencing or in-person. Due to limited enrollment, potential participants are encouraged to apply early, and no later than April 3, to receive the fullest consideration.

Contact Info: 
Michael J. Chiarappa, Ph.D.
Research Professor of Chesapeake Regional Studies
Director, Cultural and Natural Resource Initiatives
Center for Environment and Society
Washington College
485 S. Cross Street
Chestertown, MD 21620
Contact Email: