Archaeology of African American Communities

As a number of Black feminist scholars, in particular, have described, the history of African Americans in this country has been one of erasure, appropriation, delegitimization, and dehumanization. It is challenging, necessary, and urgent to engage in a critical reanalysis of the history of the US, with an emphasis on the neglected experiences and contributions of Black Americans (Spillers 1987, Hartman 2007, Sharpe 2016). In this new course, we will take small steps towards this goal by studying several African American communities over the past three centuries. Archaeological investigations of African American sites will form the base of our study. Historical archaeology is a discipline that has long endeavored to unearth the experiences of people under- or misrepresented in traditional histories through the study of both material culture and texts. We will engage with and expand the traditional methods of this discipline, and draw upon material culture, primary documents, secondary source histories, oral histories, and fiction and other interpretive artwork. Our readings and discussions will center the work of Black scholars and writers. The syllabus will survey a range of communities (rural, urban, and suburban) populated by captive, self-emancipated, and free people of African descent in American South, East, and Midwest, from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries. Our focus will be on the agency of African Americans and include topics such as: community, place, and freedom-making, identity and citizenship, strategic use of material culture, creative production of material culture, daily life and labor, and health. Class meetings will be seminar style with student-led discussion of assigned readings. If possible, we will also visit a relevant museum and/or site. Assignments will include a research paper or project (on a topic of your choice, and digital projects are welcome), presentations, and leading class discussion. There are no prerequisites, and newcomers to archaeology are welcome. 3 credits. Depending on final research project, this course can satisfy the pre-1800 requirement.