Anna S. Agbe-Davies will present at the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Seminar on New York and American Material Culture on Wednesday, February 27, at 6 pm. Her talk is entitled “Race Work Made Material: An Archaeology of African American Women’s Social Activism in the Twentieth Century”

Archaeological fieldwork at two sites (the Phyllis Wheatley Home for Girls, in Chicago, and the childhood home of rights activist Pauli Murray, in Durham, NC) provides new insights into settings where race, gender, and civic activism are front and center. The former was a charitable institution run by African American women to aid others navigating the Great Migration northward. The latter housed the multigenerational family that profoundly shaped Murray’s sense of justice and human rights. This presentation brings together material and archival evidence to consider the circumstances under which ordinary people, day in and day out, responded to the challenges posed by the patriarchal and racist ideologies of their day. Specifically, Agbe-Davies explores the early twentieth century’s emphasis on respectability and uplift. The meanings that women attributed to these concepts manifest materially in landscapes and in the selection, use, and disposal of everyday consumer goods, bringing to the fore additional themes including gender, femininity, and the presentation of one’s self and one’s home.


Anna S. Agbe-Davies is an archaeologist who studies the plantation societies of the colonial southeastern US and Caribbean, as well as towns and cities of the nineteenth- to twenty-first-century Midwest and South. One continuous thread that unites these disparate periods and places is her particular focus on the African diaspora. Her dissertation examined locally-made clay tobacco pipes from plantations and town sites in and around early colonial Jamestown, Virginia. She was recently co-PI of a major NSF-sponsored project at the townsite of New Philadelphia, Illinois. Her work at Stagville State Historic Site (North Carolina) uses archaeological collections from previous excavations, reclassifying and digitizing them for inclusion in the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS) as well as the collaborative transcription of archival account books, in partnership with colleagues from MEDEA. Her work at the Phyllis Wheatley Home and the home of Pauli Murray has also stimulated her interest in contemporary archaeology and the archaeology of plastics. She is a co-investigator on a multidisciplinary project about plastics. Agbe-Davies counts among her research interests: classification and typology; museum and heritage studies; the relationships among archaeology, anthropology, and history; and the role of digital tools in archaeological practice. She is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.


This event will be livestreamed. Please check back the day of the event for a link to the video. To watch videos of past events please visit our YouTube page.