The Hallowed Ground Project

Reckoning and Reconciliation: Examining Colonialism and Racism on the Landscape

The Hallowed Ground Project In 2018, Goucher College began addressing the issues of slavery and racial injustice that have occurred on the land that Goucher College occupies. This ongoing interdisciplinary project seeks to place the narratives of those who were previously excluded from the historical record to its forefront: Indigenous peoples, enslaved and free African Americans, and other marginalized communities. By incorporating the research methodologies of several disciplines, Goucher College is gleaning a more in-depth account of the past.

Originally called the Goucher History Project, a committee of students, faculty, staff, and alumni convened in the fall of 2018 to determine how the college could reconcile difficult histories from pre-colonization through the present day. While initially concerned with issues regarding slavery, the committee, under the leadership of history professor James Dator, soon realized that Indigenous erasure was also part of the landscape’s history. Other issues discussed included colonization, genocide, and white supremacy. This committee also researched best practices and wrote detailed reports on how the college would honor this new knowledge in the areas of racial equity, research, education, community outreach, landscape preservation, and memorialization. The reports are maintained in the Goucher College Library’s Special Collections & Archives for preservation and accessibility. After these discussions, the committee changed its name to The Hallowed Ground Project in the fall of 2019 to honor all the histories of the landscape that have been neglected. Students were, and continue to be, engaged in all aspects of this project, including archival and archaeological research, classes, outreach programs, and memorialization.

Since the first meeting in 2018, the Goucher College community has been working to repair past harms on the landscape. In 2019, a student-led outreach program visited clubs on campus to discuss The Hallowed Ground Project and learn about concerns and/or ideas of their fellow students. The college also joined Universities Studying Slavery, an international consortium of over 90 institutions of higher learning based at the University of Virginia. The institutions share “best practices and guiding principles as they engage in truth-telling educational projects focused on human bondage and the legacies of racism in their histories.” Representatives from Goucher College continue to participate in yearly symposiums throughout the country and gain relevant insights about the experiences of other institutions that assist in guiding the current and continuing work on the campus.

Another example of repairing past harms concerns the 1921 land deed (featured below), a legal document transferring property ownership from descendants of the Chew family to Goucher College when it purchased the land that became the Towson campus. In 2014, Special Collections & Archives staff noticed a racial covenant when it was digitized for preservation purposes. At the time, there was no simple legal method for striking racist language in land deeds in the State of Maryland. This changed in 2018 when the Maryland legislature passed Senate Bill 621 An Act Concerning Real Property – Deletion of Ownership Restrictions Based on Race, Religious Belief, or National Origin. Although racial covenants have not been legally enforceable since the 1948 Supreme Court decision Shelley v. Kraemer, it is significant and important that homeowner’s associations and institutions like Goucher College remove language that is not representative of their community’s values. When the Board of Trustees met in 2019, they unanimously voted to strike the racist language. Copies of both the 1921 land deed and the 2019 modified land deed are housed in Special Collections & Archives in the Goucher College Library to make it accessible to the public.

  • The 1921 land deed

  • A detail of the 1921 land deed

  • A detail of the 1921 land deed


Also, in 2019, a visual and material culture class began reviewing the Art and Artifacts Collection that included objects from the Goucher Museum that existed on the Baltimore campus in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Students working with curator Alex Ebstein and visual and material culture professor Tina Sheller discovered that this collection housed Indigenous artifacts that required repatriation based on the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990. Representatives from the college, under the leadership of Dr. Sheller, conducted research on NAGPRA and worked with a consultant from Cultural Heritage Partners, a law firm specializing in cultural heritage. The college then sent the NAGPRA Summary to numerous Native American tribal authorities. Much of the Native American pottery was transferred to the Center for New Mexico Archaeology in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a temporary repository, while the All Pueblo Council of Governors decides how it will transfer the artifacts back to the Pueblo tribes from which they originated. 

Goucher College next conducted archaeological research led by history and anthropology professor Alexandra Jones from 2020-22. While teaching undergraduate courses on the fundamentals of sustainable archaeology and cultural heritage stewardship and preservation, Dr. Jones began laying the groundwork for a formal review of our physical landscape using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) technology. Through her partnership with Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) and their archaeology master’s program, Dr. Jones brought in a team of experienced site professionals—all seeking an advanced degrees in archaeology—to (a) determine locations of interest on our campus, in particular possible living quarters of enslaved people, (b) identify specific dig locations utilizing GPR technology, and (c) finalize key dig areas. Mikala Hardie, the lead graduate student from IUP, and her colleagues, under the tutelage of Dr. Jones, discovered the foundation of a dwelling that dated to the late 18th/early 19th centuries based on the artifacts found at the site. A few examples of these artifacts include a sleigh bell, a penny, and animal bones—most likely discarded from meals and dated to post-slavery Maryland. This ruled out the possibility that this former dwelling was occupied by enslaved workers. The artifacts were processed and catalogued at Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS), a community resource database, before returning to the Goucher College Library Special Collections & Archives. The catalog record created by DAACS will make the artifact images and descriptions accessible to researchers worldwide. Based on these exploratory archaeological analyses, our focus shifted back to other disciplinary research methods.

Watch Mikala Hardie and her collegues discuss their findings during the archaeological survey. 

  • Play Video

    Epsom Plantation Archaeology Updates Fall 2022

Historical research continued in 2021-22, when The Hallowed Ground Project was awarded funding from the Council for Independent Colleges: Humanities Research for the Public Good (postponed from 2020-21 due to COVID). Dr. Dator, education archivist Debbie Harner, and several undergraduate students conducted research at the Maryland Center for History and Culture in Baltimore and presented their findings at a public program in spring 2022. This research identified the names and ages of 13 individuals who were purchased in 1785 by the first owner of Epsom Plantation, John Robert Holliday. This new information builds upon research conducted from the 1970s through 2017, which previously focused on the perspective of the slaveholding landowners in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Ridgelys and the Chews. Library staff in Special Collections & Archives are also re-processing the Buildings and Grounds Archival Collection that holds the past and current research and artifacts from the campus lands, making the information more accessible to researchers.

Watch the recording of Revealing the Past: Goucher College Hallowed Ground Project. 

  • Play Video

    Revealing the Past: Goucher College Hallowed Ground Project

  • MS 2865, Baltimore County Chattel Records, 1785, Maryland Center for History and Culture

  • The names and ages of 13 individuals who were purchased in 1785 by the first owner of Epsom Plantation, John Robert Holliday

In 2021, Special Collections & Archives added a harmful language disclaimer to the data fields of The Donnybrook Fair, the college yearbook, in the Goucher College Digital Library, stating, “The materials in this manuscript collection may contain offensive images, writings, and negative stereotypes. Today, Goucher College condemns these representations. The Goucher College Library includes the materials in an unedited format to maintain the historical accuracy of the collection.” Special Collections & Archives staff also removed a historic photograph from a digital exhibit due to its harmful ethnic language.

Land Acknowledgement and Process Paper

In 2022, Goucher College began the process of creating a land acknowledgement statement that was composed in dialogue with and in response to the words and perspectives of members from the Susquehannock peoples, the Piscataway Indian Nation, Piscataway Conoy Tribe, and the Choptico Band of the Piscataway. This statement recognizes those who had a kinship with the land before colonization and the unintentional and intentional harms of those encounters. It also recognizes the wisdom of today’s Indigenous Elders and tribal members. The land acknowledgement statement is considered an important step in establishing and mending relationships with Indigenous peoples.

The land acknowledgement was written after numerous hours of consultations with Indigenous elders and members. Each word was specifically chosen based on those conversations.

A process paper was also created to inform the public how and why this statement was written.

Read the land acknowledgement and process paper.

Next Steps

We will continue to encourage faculty from multiple disciplines to foster related student research. Goucher College Library Special Collections & Archives will feature an exhibit about the process of creating a land acknowledgement in the academic year 2023-24, debuting in Fall 2023. Public programming will be planned throughout the academic year, some with local Indigenous peoples. Other initiatives include a labor acknowledgement and conducting more archival and genealogical research. The goals are to find more individuals of those enslaved on Epsom Plantation, learn their stories, and connect to their Descendants. Multi-stage memorialization on campus with the input from the Descendant community and Goucher community members is also being planned. We are connecting with our Maryland higher education counterparts to share our learning nationally. This project is currently led by Debbie Harner.


A research website for the Hallowed Ground Project is currently being developed. For updates about the project, please join our mailing list.