Historical Archaeological Approaches to Race and Ethnicity in North America, c.1492-Present

“It seems too simplistic, but archaeology’s purpose today is to play a role in ending racism. Everything follows from this…” (Robert Kelly 1998). In this seminar, we will examine how historical archaeologists have studied a variety of populations that have inhabited North America from the late 1400s through the present, and particularly how they have approached the concepts of race and ethnicity. The course will begin with an overview of anthropology’s involvement in scientific racism in the early twentieth century. The bulk of the course will be constructed around the different approaches archaeologists have employed since then, from early attempts to identify groups neglected in historical texts through material “ethnic markers,” to Marxist analyses focusing on material evidence of resistance, to interpretive approaches centered on practice and intersectional identities. We will also study examples of archaeological projects that have successfully (and not so successfully) collaborated with descendent communities and those with explicitly activist anti-racist goals. Throughout, we will discuss what the combination of documentary and material records reveals about how racial and ethnic categories were constructed and have changed over time, including ideas about assimilation, acculturation, and creolization/hybridity. Readings will include case studies about Native Americans, African Americans, immigrants from China and Europe, and native-born “Whites.” Class meetings will be seminar style, with opportunities to view and handle archaeological artifacts, and field trips to relevant sites in New York City. Assignments will include a research paper, presentations, and leading class discussion. 3 credits.