Historical Archaeology Research Design

The historical archaeology research design that I use was initially developed for my Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville between 1994 and 1998.  I further refined the research design while I was an archaeologist at the Savannah River Archaeological Research Program (SRARP) in Aiken, South Carolina between 1998 and 2003. The SRARP is a satellite office of the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of South Carolina.  This research approach is currently being used to guide historical archaeology conducted in the Department of Anthropology at Ball State University. 

The main goal of the research effort is to reconstruct the trajectory and character of material life in the surrounding Midwest study region from the 1700s to the middle 1900s.  To accomplish this objective, the research design contains three geographic scales of analysis, consisting of the region, community, and site.  Borrowing from the Annales school of French social historians, a main objective of the research design is to reconstruct medium interval historical and cultural processes within the study region through the analysis of communities and individual sites.  Ball State University is located in Muncie, Indiana.  The study region within this geographic context consists of Muncie in Delaware County and the surrounding counties within east central Indiana.  To reconstruct medium-level temporal trends (time intervals encompassing no more than a few centuries at most), I also rely upon world systems theory developed by historical sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein.  Based upon world systems theory, I regard economic activities to be the main catalyst of historical development in North America during the past 500 years. 

To explore medium-level cultural and historical processes, I first identify the main economic trends that occurred in a region during the entire historical period.  After identifying primary economic trends, the history of a region is then divided by culture history periods, such as the colonial, antebellum and post-bellum periods.  At this point in the research process, the scale of analysis then shifts to the community level and I develop economic context for different households and time periods using the quantitative analysis of primary historical records, such as landholdings, slaveholdings, agricultural production, and property held at death enumerated in probate inventories.

The next scale of analysis in the above research approach is the archaeological site, encompassing study subjects at the household-level.  Relying upon the above methods, the generated economic contexts are used to explore the standard of living and material conditions experienced by the past residents of a site, based on archaeological materials and also household goods revealed in probate records, when available.  Typical questions that I address at the site level consist of architectural styles, dwelling size and construction methods, and household material culture, including furnishings and subsistence. 

In addition to the above general questions addressed at most sites, as part of my dissertation research, completed in 1998, I developed several new analysis methods and theoretical concepts for interpreting archaeological sites and assemblages.  I continued my research pertaining to these topics in South Carolina and am now further developing these ideas in east central Indiana.  I am particularly interested in the growth cycles of lineal families and households and applying these concepts to the analysis of house lots, domestic architecture, and artifact assemblages.  These ideas are discussed in a 2001 Historical Archaeology article on household cycles and in my 2003 book on the Gibbs farmstead that was based on my dissertation.  Household succession is another important element of the family life cycle that influences material conditions and landscape change.  These processes are discussed in a recently published article in Historical Archaeology [38(4) 2004].  I have continued to study these processes through recent excavations at the Moore-Youse house in Muncie, Indiana.  The Moore-Youse house is an I-house maintained as a house museum that was occupied by a lineal family composed of a mother, daughter, and granddaughter between the 1860s and 1980s. 

In the Department of Anthropology at Ball State University, I am implementing the above research effort in the surrounding region and involving graduate students in the process.  East central Indiana and Muncie are culturally and archaeologically interesting because the region possesses both rural and urban communities. The range of rural and urban life in the area allows the pursuit of farmstead archaeology in the surrounding country side and archaeological investigation of a medium-size industrial town.  I am particularly interested in further expanding two aspects of the above discussed research design.  As part of community-level research, I hope to systematically reconstruct the long-term social, cultural, racial, and economic structure of the study area through quantitative analysis of primary historical documents and then archaeologically sample representative examples of different social segments via site excavations.  The overall purpose of this effort is to reconstruct how members of different cultures, races, and social segments intersected and were transformed in a local area from the settler period to the recent past.  For example, lower, middle, and upper wealth groups during the early federal, antebellum, and post-bellum periods in the surrounding region will be systematically defined through quantitative archival research, such as the analysis of landholdings and property held at death.  Different households within and between the socioeconomic groups can then be studied and compared through archaeology.  This effort will eventually result in the detailed reconstruction of medium interval material trends among different social-ethnic-racial-economic segments in the study area.  At the site level, I am replicating and refining the use of time sequence analysis, an analysis method developed in my dissertation.  I am also further exploring landscape change that occurs among successive occupations of a site or dwelling inhabited by lineal families.  In turn, these efforts provide numerous opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to gain research experience in historical archaeology. 




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