Derek Alderman, professor and head of the Department of Geography, is a cultural and historical geographer who examines the racial struggles that underlie public memory, heritage tourism, and place naming in the southeastern United States. Much of his work focuses on the memory-work, commemorative activism, and place-making efforts of African Americans as they assert their right to belong, remember the past on their own terms, and shape cultural landscapes.
Alderman is perhaps best known for advancing scholarly and lay understanding of memorials to the Civil Rights Movement, particularly the politics of naming streets after Martin Luther King, Jr. In doing so, he has established himself as a national authority on the issue. Alderman has moved beyond academia to contribute to the national dialogue about King streets and other commemorative and cultural issues. He is frequently interviewed or quoted in prominent print, radio and television news outlets, and he has provided unpaid consultation to over 40 government organizations, non-profit groups, and minority initiatives. In April of 2014, Alderman was conferred the Media Achievement Award by the Association of American Geographers. The award, one of the Association’s highest honors, recognizes exceptional and outstanding accomplishments in publicizing geographical insights through media outreach and public engagement.
Alderman is founder and co-coordinator of the interdisciplinary research initiative called RESET (Race, Ethnicity, and Social Equity in Tourism), and he is currently working with a team from five universities—including faculty and students at HBCUs—to examine the changing and contested ways that slavery is remembered at southern plantation museums. In fall of 2014, the RESET team began a three-year, National Science Foundation-funded project to examine plantation tourism in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Virginia. Alderman and other researchers will conduct surveys of visitors to plantations, interviews with docents and site managers, and content analysis of exhibits and guided tours to identify strategies for improving the narration of slavery and the history of African Americans.