Excavating the Empire City: An Introduction to the Historical Archaeology of New York City

This course will introduce students to the historical archaeology of New York City and to the material traces of the past that lie beneath our feet. The course will begin with a brief introduction to archaeological methods and to the surprisingly rich history of archaeological discoveries in a city so often focused on the future. Then we will embark upon a chronologically and thematically organized survey of what historical archaeological studies since the late 1970s (most catalyzed by federal and local historic preservation laws) have contributed to our understanding of the city’s past, from sixteenth-century colonial encounters to the twentieth century. Along the way, we will examine different approaches to interpreting material evidence and its relationship to written texts. We will also focus on what archaeology can tell us about the relationships between larger historical trends or events (including changes to the urban landscape) and the lives and agency of people “on the ground,” especially those who have been neglected or misrepresented in written histories. Topics will include colonization, slavery, urbanization and infrastructure, health, middle-class ideology, the intersection of class-, race-, and gender-based discrimination, immigration and acculturation, and identity and community building. Class meetings will be seminar style with student-led discussion of assigned readings and opportunities to view and handle artifacts. If possible, we will also visit relevant museums and field sites. Assignments will include an artifact report and 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. May satisfy the chronological requirement, depending on final project.