Friday Links: What’s New in Historical Archaeology

This week’s photo of the week was taken at Shadwell, the original home of Peter and Jane Jefferson and the birthplace of Thomas Jefferson. The excavators are Devin Floyd and Michell Sivilich, and they are excavating as part of the Monticello Plantation Archaeological Survey. The survey began in 1997, and includes over 20,000 shovel tests, identifying over 40 archaeological sites. To learn more, you can visit the Monticello Archaeology department, both on the web and on Facebook. Thanks to Sara Bon-Harper, the photographer, for sending us the photo.

Also, we are now featuring our Photos of the Week on our Facebook Page as the banner image, and they will also be included in a Photos of the Week Photo Album. Please visit and “like” the photos you like the best!

Headlines

Excavations are being conducted in Manhattan to mitigate a utility project.

Call for Papers

The inaugural Southeastern Conference on Historic Sites Archaeology has a call for papers, due June 29th. The Conference itself is from August 24 and 25, 2012 in Charleston, South Carolina.

Registration is open for the Underground Railroad Conference, being held in St. Augustine, Florida from June 20-24.

Resources

Book: The Oxford Handbook of Public Archaeology, edited by Robin Skeates, Carol McDavid, and John Carman, is now available.

Journal: The Journal of Field Archaeology is Maney Publishing’s Journal of the Month, providing the past three years of journals for free download.

Blogs

A poster from Fort St. Joseph discussing the production of lead shot.

I talk about the applications of PInterest for digital cultural heritage at my blog, Dirt.

Matt Reeves, who wrote about his metal detecting workshop for us last week, also discusses their finds at the Montpelier blog.

Mount Vernon’s Mystery Midden has some wonderful photographs of the zooarchaeological material, and discusses the importance of the assemblage.

The folks at FPAN’s The Dirt on Public Archaeology highlighted a number of archaeological sites for Florida Archaeology Month.

John Roby discusses the recent letting go of SpikeTV’s American Digger host Ric Savage from his column in American Digger Magazine.

Friday Links: This week in Historical Archaeology

This week’s featured photo is from Tiffany Brunson, an anthropology graduate student at the University of Idaho. The photo is of a series of lead disks that she posted on the HistArch list serve last week, which were found at Fort Spokane : other archaeologists have suggested that they may be flattened bullets either waiting to be recast or, the most popular response, is that they are flattened bullets being used as gaming tokens. If you have any ideas, let us know in the comments!

Headlines

A century old plantation and a possible African American cemetery are on land recently purchased in Danville, Virginia.

The Virginia Historical Society is featured on CNN for their recently launched database of enslaved Africans in historical records.

Archaeologists in York are developing an exhibit about their project on homelessness.

The Florida Public Archaeology Network has been working with communities to restore cemeteries.

Manuscript Calls

The African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter is looking for submissions for its next release.

Conferences

Winterthur Ceramics Conference is being held from April 26-27th.

The Visiting Scholar Conference is being held at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, with this year’s topic on: The Archaeology of Slavery: Toward a Comparative Global Framework. It is being held from March 30-31st.

To the Blogs!

Mount Vernon has a nice piece about the wine bottle glass assemblage discovered in their midden.

John R. Roby (@JohnRRoby) has launched a new historical archaeology blog called “Digs and Docs”. Add him to your RSS Feed!

Mick Morrison (@MickMorrison) returns from a blogging hiatus with a description of a 20th century site Presbyterian Mission Site in Weipa, Australia.

There are a couple sitings of papers being presented at this year’s SHA conference in Baltimore on various social media:

Mandy Raslow (@MrshlltwnMauler) and Heather Cowen Cruz have their paper “Excavating with Kids at the Farwell House, Storrs, CT” available on academia.edu, and Terry P. Brock (@brockter…also author of this post) has made his presentation “Place, Space, and the Process of Emancipation” available on his blog.

Have you put your presentation up on the web? Please let us know, we’d love to share it!

Photo: Copyright All rights reserved by Tiffany.Brunson Used with permission from photographer.

CHAT 2011 and contemporary archaeology in the US

In November of 2011, I went to Boston University to present at the “Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory” conference (CHAT).  This is an annual conference that has some history in the United Kingdom (in fact, next year will be the 10th anniversary meeting at York) but the idea of “Contemporary Archaeology” is largely unknown on this side of the Atlantic.  What I found was a diversity of approaches and practices, and little discussion about integrating with the North American condition of archaeology.  This left me pondering the idea of a Contemporary Archaeology in North America, and what might be done to further it.

The conference spanned the 11-13th of November, and took place at BU’s College of Arts and Sciences building.  The conference was organized around thematic sessions, with two such sessions running concurrently throughout the weekend.  I had organized a session on the archaeology of property. As both a participant and a spectator, I can say that the conference was run extremely efficiently and effectively.  Professor Mary Beaudry and grad students Travis Parno, Brent Fortenberry, Alexander Keim, Diana Gallagher, and the rest of the BU Archaeology Department Grad student organizing committee are to be strongly commended for organizing, managing, and implementing such a stellar and smoothly run conference.  Kudos to all of you!

Most papers I saw would not have been out of place at the SHAs, Historical Archaeology sessions at the SAAs or the AAAs, or the various regional archaeology and anthropology conferences I have attended.  Papers focused on the material culture of the last 500+  years of capitalism, European colonialism and differentiation, and responses/resistance to that from within and without. The earliest time period I saw discussed was in a paper by Ronald Salzer, focusing on a 15th century pocket Sundial found in Austria.  More recent (but still perhaps traditional) papers focused on 19th century materialities–for example, Alexander Keim’s work on space and slums in 19th century Boston, or Megan Edwards and Rebecca Graff’s paper on meat cuts and meat packing at the 1893 Chicago world’s fair.

There were two groups of papers that I think would stand outside of what most North American archaeologists consider to be Historical Archaeology.  The first were papers that explicitly addressed present social or political conditions by mobilizing archaeologically recovered material.  For example, Joanna Behrens paper on the 19th century “Great Trek” in South Africa problematized modern historiographic and nationalist notions about the place of this event in South African memory.  In my session, Julie Woods and Rae Gould discussed Indigenous object and structures and role of property categories in contemporary Indigenous politics in North America.The other group were papers that utilized traditional archaeological methods, but on sites from the present, or the very recent past.  This is perhaps closer to “Contemporary Archaeology” in the UK.  Adrian Myers paper on WWII internment camps in Manitoba was on the fence of the standard period of 50 years for site significance, but demonstrated the utility of such approaches in recasting WWII as a historical and social event. Courtney Singleton’s paper on the archaeology of homelessness in Indianapolis combined a commitment to political advocacy with studies of materiality of homeless camps, an approach similar to others practiced in the UK.There was no single geographical theme–I saw papers from all continents excluding Antarctica. Theoretically, papers largely utilized Interpretive and Contextual approaches, relating material culture and meaning systems.  The theme of the conference, “People and Things in Motion” brought out a lot of papers that focused on material flows, and the agency of objects.  Ross Wilson’s paper on object narratives in 18th and 19th century England was a good example–these fictionalized literary accounts of everyday objects (e.g. “The Adventures of a Pincushion”) reveal how objects had the ability to change or mobilize the social statuses of the individuals who acquired them.

All of this left me scratching my head–what is Contemporary Archaeology, as it stands in the US?  More importantly, how might such an archaeology integrate with the realities of shrinking research funds, the juggernaut of CRM, and the largely positivist and distant past-focused outlooks of US archaeologists. The plenary sessions left these questions mostly unanswered, focusing instead on outlining theoretical approaches that could be utilized.  Shannon Dawdy’s plenary lecture on Friday recast the concept of the “fetish” out of its racialized, politicized, and psychologized origins, and how its various meanings were constituted in different ways within her long-term research in the archaeology of New Orleans.  Likewise, the busy plenary discussion on Saturday focused largely on the relationships between art and archaeological practice, the role of theory-building and borrowing in archaeology, and the uneasy flow between the historical and contemporary pasts.  I am certainly giving a short shrift to the nuanced, complex, and interesting discussions that took place.  I found them compelling, but upon later reflection, I began to wonder whether there would be institutional room for this work.  The only long-running and on-going project in the US that could be called “contemporary archaeology” is William Rathje’s Garbage Project.  And there have not been any academic positions in this program or others in the US that specifically focus on Contemporary Materiality.  Are there any that I don’t know about?

I also imagine that, ten or twenty years ago, folks in the UK and Ireland were raising similar objections to my own.  And since then, UK and Irish departments have made significant commitments to contemporary archaeology.   As evidenced by CHAT 2011 at BU, the diversity of ideas about Contemporary Archaeology in the US suggests that such an approach is in its infancy over here, with hard distinctions and agreements on terms and practices that come with of making a discipline still a ways off.

To that end, I suspect that visibility is the best policy.  I first heard of CHAT in the US when Brent Fortenberry organized a “CHAT at TAG” session in 2009.  CHAT’s sponsorship of similar sessions at other national and regional conferences in North America, along with a continued conference on this side of the pond would do much to get us all more comfortable with the idea of a Contemporary Archaeology, and might create more institutional space for such an archaeology to be practiced.