Establishing the Society of Black Archaeologists

The field of African American historical archaeology witnessed a boom in social and political consciousness from Black scholars during the 1990s. In 1994 Theresa Singleton and Elizabeth Scott broke new ground with the founding of the Society of Historical Archaeology‘s Gender and Minority Affairs Committee. Several years later, African American archaeologist, Maria Franklin (1997a;1997b) published on the lack of racial diversity in the field and archaeology’s affect on the African Diaspora. The 90s also represented a critical time in African American historical archaeology, in particular, with the excavation and later commemoration of both the Freedman’s Cemetery in Dallas, Texas and the African Burial Ground in Manhattan, New York. Cheryl La Roche and Michael L. Blakey’s (1997) article “Seizing Intellectual Power: The Dialogue at the New York African Burial Ground,” stressed the importance of community collaboration, while Theresa Singleton’s (1999) book, I, too, am America: Archaeological Studies of African American Life, addressed issues of African American representation, and the need for alternative methodological and pedagogical practices within the field.

In years prior, scholars and students alike have historically discussed the need to create an organization (or institute) to identify and address these social and political concerns as well as foster additional dialogue. However, the low numbers of Blacks in the field thwarted previous attempts to solidify an organization until now. More than four decades after the establishment of the Association of Black Anthropologists and a decade after these publications, the Society of Black Archaeologists (SBA) was established.

The groundwork for SBA was laid in 2011 by a few students at the University of Florida who saw the potential to address some concerns within the field of archaeology. At this year’s annual SHA conference in Baltimore, Maryland a group of Black archaeologists came together to discuss their experiences as racial minorities in the field. The meeting brought together veteran and amateur archaeologists, reaffirming the organizations commitment to promote the development of five goals:

  1. To lobby on behalf and ensure the proper treatment of African and African Diaspora material culture.
  2. To promote archaeological research and recruit more blacks to enter the field of archaeology.
  3. To raise and address contemporary concerns relating to African peoples worldwide.
  4. To highlight the past and present achievements and contributions that blacks have made in the field of archaeology.
  5. To ensure that the communities affected by archaeological work are not simply viewed as objects of study or informants. Rather, they should be treated as active makers and/or participants in the unearthing and interpretation of their history.

As of right now SBA currently operates as a listserv as opposed to a formal organization; however, it is currently engaged in two new projects. The first project is interested in exploring the history of blacks in archaeology. SBA is working to collect oral histories from individuals throughout the African Diaspora who have had exposure to archaeology. The Oral History Project was created to collect and archive oral history interviews of Blacks in the field to gain a better understanding of the roles and experiences Blacks have had in the past and present. The first interview was with Whitney Battle-Baptiste, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and can be heard online at the SBA website. Listeners can hear Dr. Battle-Baptiste discuss how her worldview influenced her research, and her humble beginnings in the field of archaeology.

In addition to the Oral History project, SBA members have been working to increase the presence of archaeology in the field of African Diaspora Studies and organized a panel presentation entitled, “Our Things Remembered: Unearthing relations between Archaeology and Black Studies,” at the National Council for Black Studies 2012 annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia. SBA has also been invited to organize an additional panel for the 2012 Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) convention to be held in Philadelphia this September.

If you have an interest in archaeology and would like to join our listserv please e-mail sbarchaeologists@gmail.com. The organization is still in its foundational stage and we are currently looking for relevant information to post on the website including job openings, internships, field schools, and articles for the blog attached to the website. We are always open to comments and suggestions.

Please check out the SBA website often for updates at www.societyofblackarchaeologists.com or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sbarchaeologists

References

  • Franklin, Maria
    • 1997a “Power to the People”: Sociopolitics and the Archaeology of Black Americans. Historical Archaeology 31(3):36-50.
    • 1997b Why are there so few black American archaeologists? Antiquity: an international journal of expert archaeology 71(274).
  • La Roche, Cheryl and Michael Blakey
    • 1997 Seizing Intellectual Power: The Dialogue at the New York African Burial Ground. Historical Archaeology 31(3):84-106.
  • Singleton, Theresa (editor)
    • 1999 “I, Too, Am America”: Archaeological Studies of African-American Life. University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville

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.