My research experiences and perspectives are interdisciplinary in nature, combining my training and interests in both the archaeological sciences and broader social sciences, in order to create a bridge between historic and living populations.
My research interests include historical and industrial archaeology; social, economic, and political dimensions of haciendas, plantations, and industrial communities in the American West, Latin America, and the Caribbean; issues related to colonialism, world-systems analysis, and globalization.
My most recent research projects include an NSF-Partnerships for International Research Education (PIRE) funded project on the archaeological / historical dimensions of contemporary biofuel production in the Americas; the study of sugar production and industrial heritage in Puerto Rico; archaeological investigation of social change a historic sugar hacienda in Yucatan, Mexico; and the hard rock mining industry and communities of the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan and the Cripple Creek Mining District of Colorado. These projects combine my interest and training in anthropology and history and reflect my desire to incorporate aspects of sociocultural theory, archaeology, archival research, ethnohistory, and ethnographic research into a unidisciplinary study of the past.
The following are examples of my ongoing
and past research projects:
Central Aguirre Research Project:
I established The Caribbean Industrial Heritage Program five years ago to focus attention on the industrial heritage of Spanish speaking areas in the circum-Caribbean region. As part of this larger initiative, I am currently leading the Central Aguirre Research Project which is focused on the sugar central (an industrialized sugar mill and company town) of the same name in Puerto Rico.
My research in Aguirre has focused on an examination of aspects of social and economic organization related to the production and organization of physical and social space in the company town built by a U.S. company following the annexation of the island in 1898. In particular this research has looked at the production of abstract space (as conceived of by the company and its designers), how individuals living in the town perceived that space, and then negotiated and lived within that space. Oral history work has been an essential component of this research, allowing us to begin to understanding the historical process of spatial negotiation that has taken place within the community and how this process is linked to individual and communal conceptions of working-class and industrial heritage. These questions are especially poignant in the now post-industrial landscape of Central Aguirre (the central ceased production in 1990).
I currently have two articles published on the ongoing research at the central, including “The Production and Negotiation of Working Class Space and Place at Central Aguirre, Puerto Rico” in IA: The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archaeology, 36(1):24-46 and “A Multidisciplinary Approach to Investigating the Industrial Heritage of Puerto Rico: Research at the National Register Site of Central Aguirre,” published in CRM: The Journal of Heritage Stewardship, 7:87-91. In addition, I have a chapter in the forthcoming edited volume Reanimating Industrial Spaces (in press, 2013) titled “Corporate Hegemony, Working-Class Identity, and Community Negotiation in the (Post-)Industrial Sugar Landscape of Central Aguirre, Puerto Rico” and an article under revision for the International Journal of Heritage Studies titled “The Construction of Working-Class Identity and Social Memory in a Place of Sugar Production.”
The Pan American Biofuels and Bioenergy Sustainability Research Program:
The growing global demand for sustainably produced bioenergy and biofuels in many ways has reinvigorated the long-standing articulations between agribusiness and consumerism in the global north and ecosystem services and social systems in the global south, echoing earlier plantation systems and unequal relationships initiated during the modern-era. We are at a moment in time when we should be critically evaluating the impact the global demand for biofuels has on local livelihoods and ecosystems. Toward this end, researchers at Michigan Tech have teamed with scholars from institutions within the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina to study the impact and sustainability of biofuel production from social, economic, and environmental perspectives. My colleagues and I at Michigan Tech in conjunction with researchers from 15 other national and international institutions were recently awarded a $5 million dollar, 5 five year NSF-Partnerships for International Research Education (PIRE) grant to study the impact of sustainable biofuel and bioenergy production on local people and communities across the Americas. This award follows on the heels of an NSF-Research Coordination Network (RCN) grant I along with four colleagues at Michigan Tech were recently awarded in the amount of $750,000 to create a research network of Pan American scholars working on these same questions. For my part, I am developing a field research project primarily centered in Yucatán, Mexico that will explore aspects of land tenure, labor rights, water rights, and local food system security in the context of biofuel initiatives from an evolutionary historical perspective.
Creating successful and sustainable biofuel policy initiatives requires an understanding of the historical and contemporary socio-economic issues that have shaped and continue to shape local stakeholder perceptions and participation. Local food sovereignty and overall food system security are essential considerations if local, and by extension global biofuel sustainability is to be achieved. Essential to such an understanding is recognition of the local social mechanisms that have influenced and insured long-term flexibility and adaptability in response to changes in economic activities, market structures, and government policy at the regional, national, and international levels over the long-term. The diverse viewpoints that comprise “local” stakeholders (dissected by historically informed conceptions of gender, class, ethnicity and/or race) need to be explored as fundamental factors in the long-term sustainability of a global system of biofuel production. I will be pursuing a project that will utilize anthropological methodologies, including archaeology, ethnography, and community centered action research programs in order to critically examine the impact of biofuel policy initiatives on historically particular local food system security, including socio-economic variables related to land tenure, water rights, and labor relations .
The Hacienda San Juan Bautista Tabi Project:
The Hacienda Tabi Project began conducting archaeological research in Yucatán in 1996. In that first season of fieldwork a team of researchers, including myself, from Texas A&M University explored and recorded the principal buildings of the casco, and the surrounding roads, walls, and houses of the worker’s village. Although time and the elements certainly had taken their toll on the ruins of the village, it was apparent that the site had experienced negligible disturbance in the 80 plus years since its inhabitants had been liberated by armies of the Mexican Revolution in 1914. Following that first season, a decade of intermittent field seasons carried out a series of excavations at Hacienda Tabi, including extensive excavations conducted by myself in 1999. This field research became the centerpiece of 15 years of research on the rise of the modern world-system and how particular sites like Hacienda Tabi can inform our understanding of the chains that have increasingly come to link nearly every man, woman, and child in the world today. This research has culminated in my book On the Periphery of the Periphery: Household Archaeology at Hacienda San Juan Bautista Tabi, Yucatán, Mexico.
Archaeological excavations at Hacienda Tabi provided an opportunity for me to formulate a series of hypotheses regarding the effects of global processes on the daily lives of those individuals who lived and labored on the hacienda. I began to view the particular example of the rise and evolution of the hacienda system in Yucatán as a way of explicating the abstract processes associated with the expansion of a worldwide division of labor, the development of global commodity chains, and the effects of proletarianization on the households and individuals incorporated within an evolving world-system; processes that continue to be relevant in our present-day lives. I identified three primary goals associated with the analysis of archaeological and historical material related to Hacienda Tabi: first, to document the rise of the hacienda system in Yucatán; second, to investigate aspects of change and continuity in social organization at Hacienda Tabi, in comparison with the organizational structure of colonial, and Prehispanic Yucatán; and third to explore the correlations that exist between changes in social organization (e.g., how relations of status, power, and wealth are negotiated) and patterning seen in the built environment and material culture at the hacienda.
In a nutshell, archaeological investigations conducted on the grounds of the former Hacienda San Juan Bautista Tabi reveal how the local, expressed in material culture remains and the landscape of the hacienda, articulated with larger global processes to create change in the lives of those individuals incorporated within the hacienda system. Fundamental shifts in the organization and relations of production led to new forms of domestic organization and new expressions of social status, wealth, and power within the physical and social landscape of the hacienda. Using a total history approach, this research has explored how changes in the lives of the workers at the hacienda reflect historically particular local negotiations with the social, political, and economic realities of an evolving global system of capitalist based production, circulation, and consumption.
The Cliff Mine Archaeology Project:
The Cliff Mine site is located on the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The Cliff copper vein was discovered in 1843 and has the distinction of being the first paying mine in the region, credited with initiating the first great mineral boom in American history. In 2010, the Industrial Archaeology program at Michigan Tech initiated the Cliff Mine Archaeology Project (CMAP) as part of our annual summer field school, co-directed by myself and Timothy Scarlett, with Masters and now PhD student Sean Gohman as the Project Archaeologist.
For the past three field seasons we have trained undergraduate and graduate students in a variety of archaeological field techniques associated with the larger research program at the Cliff. The initial field season involved total station mapping and reconnaissance of the site in order to gain a better understanding of the chronology and networking of industrial processes at the site. The first field season resulted in a series of detailed maps, profile drawings, and descriptions of the archaeological features at the site, all contained within a GIS database. In the second 2011 season, we concentrated our efforts on excavating at the site of the second Cliff stamp mill which operated from 1851-1870. I think I can safely say that we were all pleasantly surprised by the level of preservation we encountered as we uncovered the floor of the mill complex. The third field season found us extending our investigations to not only include further exploration of the stamp mill complex, but also exploratory archaeological work in the former town site of Clifton where miners, their families, and others associated with the mine lived from the 1840s into the 1950s. Please take a look at the CMAP blog for some wonderful discussion, analysis, and photography of the excavations (starting here).
The West Point Foundry Project:
The Industrial Archaeology Program at Michigan Tech under the sponsorship of The Scenic Hudson Land Trust conducted archaeological research at the historic West Point Foundry site in Cold Spring, New York from 2001-2009. The West Point Foundry Project generated a comprehensive bibliography of documentary sources, an electronic base map and GIS database combining site features and historical maps, investigated the waterpower system at the site, portions of the boring mill complex, the blast furnace and its blowing engine, the molding shop and cupola furnace, the office building, the William Kemble house, and a number of working-class domestic structures adjacent to the foundry on the eastern side of Foundry Brook. Research at the West Point foundry project produced 8 theses, 1 dissertation, and half a dozen technical reports, in addition to training dozens of undergraduate and graduate students and volunteers in archaeological techniques and methodologies. The project was also quite successful in creating broader public interest and understanding regarding the industrial history and industrial heritage of the Hudson Valley and the United States in general through the project’s dedication to public outreach.
The Cripple Creek Mining District Project:
In my capacity as the Historical Archaeology Fellow for the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP) at the Colorado Historical Society (CHS) I analyzed and produced a monograph on the archaeological materials and data collected from excavations in the historic Cripple Creek Mining District, Teller County, Colorado . The project area included approximately 25% of the thirty square mile historic Cripple Creek Mining District, including the former historic town sites of Altman, Anaconda, Cameron, Elkton, Independence, and numerous named and unnamed mine sites that were variously worked between 1891 and the 1930s.
Utilizing data from households in the Cripple Creek District provided insight into the daily lives of the men, women, and children who lived in the district. Analysis of archaeological assemblages revealed patterns of past behaviors, helping to place past individuals and households within the framework of larger social and economic networks, including those of community, district, region, nation, and ultimately the world. In the study quantitative and qualitative analyses of various classes of archaeological artifacts (including ceramics, fauna, personal items, children’s playthings, and equipment and tools) were analyzed in order to elucidate issues related to household consumption.
To accomplish this, household consumptive behaviors were first analyzed through the technique of economic scaling, in which index values are used to calculate the relative differences between ceramic ware types and between different quality cuts of beef, both within households and between households. The index values used in this study are based on prices recorded in late nineteenth and early twentieth century sources. For ceramics, index values for porcelain and semi-porcelain vessels of various decorative styles and techniques were calculated from period Sears and Roebuck catalogs.
In particular, this study focused on documenting the different strategies employed by households in making consumer choice decisions. An inductive, or bottom up approach, identified patterns of household consumption representing differences in the socio-economic status and power of district households. Portions of the monograph were reworked into an article “Consumer Agency and Household Consumption in the Cripple Creek Mining District, Colorado, USA” published in the International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 16:227-266.
The Camp Hearne Archaeological Project:
The Camp Hearne Archaeological Project was an eight year multidisciplinary project that utilized archaeological excavation, archival research, material culture studies, and oral history interviews (including former prisoners, guards, and townspeople) to document and interpret the activities of the more than 5,000 German and Japanese prisoners of war who were interred at the camp in central Texas between December 15, 1942 and January of 1946. This research resulted in the book Lone Star Stalag: German Prisoners of War at Camp Hearne.
Archaeological work recovered a wealth of documentation regarding the daily personal lives of prisoners within the camp, ranging from more mundane items like toothbrushes and toiletry items, to military insignia and remnants of the field equipment the soldiers had brought from the front. We even recovered the banner stamp for the underground camp newspaper “Die Mahnung” (The Warning), published by Nazi party members in the camp as a form of propaganda and as a means to intimidate.
Perhaps most fascinating and enlightening from an archaeological perspective was the illicit insignia industry that was being run in the camp. These “home-made” objects would have replaced the originals that were either taken from soldiers at the time of capture or that were perhaps traded by soldiers to their captors for other goods. Using old canteens, mess kits, and in some cases lead casting, enterprising prisoners were reproducing military insignia and badges for distribution in the camp. We found numerous examples of the waste created from the manufacture of these items, as well as a number of examples of the finished products that were apparently discarded at the conclusion of the war as the prisoners were to be repatriated. In a prime example of the value of archaeology, none of the former prisoners or guards we interviewed remembered hearing about this underground economy.
Ultimately the research conducted at Camp Hearne is a prime example of the probative power of archaeology focused on the contemporary period. By combining data from historical, ethnographic, and archaeological research we can gain a more comprehensive and multivocal perspective on a past that is quickly moving from living memory to historical memory, on its way to simply being history.