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Film Explores History of Great Dismal Swamp

The Old Dominion University Postcolonial Research Group will sponsor a free showing of "Dismal History," a documentary film that explores the stories of runaway servants and slaves who once lived in the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia.

The film, which was produced by Imtiaz Habib, professor of English, and Richard Green, an ODU senior majoring in English, will be shown at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 20, in the University Theatre, located on Hampton Boulevard between 46th and 47th streets.

The film centers on the untold stories of runaway white and black servants, slaves and other members of "maroon communities" who inhabited the Swamp from a few decades after the Jamestown Settlement until the beginning of the 20th century. During research for the project, Habib and Green discovered that as many as several hundred people of American Indian, African and European backgrounds took refuge there. Descendants of some of these populations settled in, and still live in, areas immediately adjoining the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and North Carolina, including Deep Creek, Suffolk and Chesapeake. Their research included work previously bypassed by historians, including written narratives, oral histories and documentation and interviews from archeologists.

According to the makers of the film, the stories of these individuals constitute a vital missing chapter in the rich and complex history of Hampton Roads. For Habib, this chapter tells us a great deal about the American experience, the early years of the country and the history of American slavery. "This neglected history participates vitally in the making of an ethnically varied contemporary America," he said. "ODU has a natural asset in the rich and varied history of our region."

The approximately hour-long, high-definition color film includes extensive footage from remote, inaccessible areas of the Great Dismal Swamp on both the Virginia and North Carolina sides, including recently discovered archeological sites deep within the Swamp. It draws on interviews with amateur and professional archeologists, local historians and Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge officials, as well as with the living descendents of populations connected to the history of maroon, or runaway, life in the swamp.

"This history is an important part of the making of America. It's time the history came out of the swamp and into our lives," said Habib.

This article was posted on: January 3, 2011

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