ANTH 3420 Urban Archaeology OER

Group logo of ANTH 3420 Urban Archaeology OER

Week 7: Ethnicity and Racialization in Urban America

This topic contains 7 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by 1 month ago.

Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)
  • Author
  • #79506

    Kelly M Britt

    The three readings for this week focus on ethnic and racial identity seen in the archaeological record in the US. Compare and contrast the three articles and offer your own critique on the authors analysis on these three papers.


    Blessing Tate

    Leone (2005), Mullins and Jones (2011), and Linn (2010) have employed interdisciplinary approaches of engaged anthropology to illustrate the hidden forms of racial and ethnic inequality inscribed in the American society. Leone (2005), contemplates on what happens to the “othered” cultures within capitalism. He uses the ideas from Louis Althusser and Jurgen Habermas to explore the historical culture of African-Americans living in Annapolis and how this culture influenced their liberty. He asserts that inequality was built through possessive individualism, which was reinforced through material cultures, urban landscapes, personal objects, and other artifacts. Leone uses these objects to understand the African-American notion of liberty.
    Mullins and Jones (2011), emphasizes on the fact that American societies have historically used ethnicity and race to draw boundaries and to maintain the social arrangement in which the majority (whites) are identified with abundant possession of economic, social, and political power expressed in rich landscapes and objects while the minority (particularly the African-Americans) have been demarcated using improvised landscapes and artifacts. Mullins and Jones (2011), analyzed the African-American neighborhoods in Indianapolis to determine how such historical ideologies of inequalities in the presentation of African-Americans were manifested in the 20th century and today.
    Linn (2010), uses the historical artifacts of soda-water bottles to illustrate the culture, nationalism, status, and identity of the Irish immigrants in the 19th century based on her analysis of a working-class neighborhood in New York City using information collected from folkloric and historical archives. According to her analysis, soda water was a significant fluid for the Irish immigrants in the 19th century and acted as a healing remedy—from sicknesses and homesickness.
    Other than a detailed description of the artifacts to explain cultures, Leone (2005), Mullins and Jones (2011), and Linn (2010) take the readers far beyond the surface into the mind of the archaeologists attempting to unravel the meanings of what they see in the evidence. Leone uses various perspectives to comprehensively illustrate the notion of African-American liberty as they struggled to express it in Annapolis. Mullins and Jones’ article offers an opportunity to understand ways in which affluence was defined along the color line in the 20th century and how much the ideologies of African-American slam life shaped the racialized definition of materiality and poverty. Linn provides her readers with a comprehensive exploration of how Irish immigrants formed their identities through soda-water.


    Denille Samuel

    This week’s readings were eye opening. It is extremely interesting, the things you can tell about a people from what they have left behind. The three readings were similar in the use of archaeology to uncover the past and building a story by bringing to light the customs of the people that once previously occupied the space that is being excavated. Digging into the past to reveal how people lived, what they consumed, telling if they were dehumanized and how or what they did to survive can all come out of the ground. The distinctions I found in the readings were; the method of using stereotyping in order to gentrify in the Mullins and Jones piece, a palimpsest way of covering the heritage of African Americans in the Leone piece and the history of how a people held their identity while changing their habitus in an already dominating culture in the Linn piece.
    In the Mullins and Jones piece “Archaeologies of Race and Urban Poverty: The Politics of Slumming, Engagement, and the Color Line”, I got the sense that I was reading about Gentrification in its early stages or should I say gentrification is a modern term for what has occurred in communities that have been deemed to be slums through the use of slum stereotypes and then reformed in ways that seem to erase the past. The excavations that took place in Indianapolis, Indiana revealed the lives of the former residents and there living conditions in an impoverished community. Their livelihood, although, impoverished did not determine their self-worth or ambition to live a decent life. The history of what they consumed showed how they implemented different tactics to feed their families, like mixing good pieces of meat with what was considered scraps to create a more abundant yield and food preservation like canning foods that was less expensive and would last longer. The unfortunate part is the slum stereotyping that would allow for places like these to be taken over and not renovated for the community that is already there but instead taken over to be reformed for profit, displacing families and the community. The stereotypes allowed for a justification of gentrification.
    In Mark Leone’s piece, the seventh chapter of “In the Archaeology of Liberty in an American Capital: Excavations in Annapolis” titled “African America”, the excavations which unearthed what seemed like simple items such as bottles, buttons, tin cans, pins, plates, bowls as well as animal and fish bones, gave a glimpse at the daily lives of the Africans and African Americans that lived there before. The excavations and the oral histories showed there were free back people that lived there as well as middle class black people living with a “double consciousness”, “the archaeology of Annapolis unlocked black communities living in freedom, escaping racism, and making independent lives, with integrity and consciousness of their condition.”. Connecting the past with the present, in the case where Catherine Yornwode an internet business owner read historical narrative sources to help her authenticate spiritual items that she sold to people practicing the arts. The items excavated brought to light the spiritual practices of the Africans that lived and worked there, solidifying and sometimes rewriting oral histories but certainly making known the lives of the African Americans that long before occupied that space.
    In Meredith B. Linn’s piece “Elixir of Emigration: Soda Water and the Making of Irish Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City”, Irish immigrants’ relationship with soda water and their use of it helped them cope with having to accustom themselves with living in America after being exiled from Ireland due to famine and colonization. They used soda water to cure aliments and diseases, take care of their families and gain financial wealth for those who became producers and sellers of soda water. It was eye opening to read how this substance afforded the Irish immigrants the ability to change their status in society, giving them upward mobility. Soda water helped the Irish immigrants to change their “habitus” due to the substance itself being seen as something that the more affluent or at the least, upper middle class would consume. The picture that is painted from the historical accounts solidified with the materials that were excavated from the Five Points Area in 19th century New York shows the struggles and the resilience of the Irish Americans.

    You must be logged in to view attached files.

    Jaeden Granger

    Meredith B. Linn’s Elixir of Emigration: Soda Water and the Making of Irish Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City discusses the Irish immigrants and their relationship with soda water due to their traditional understandings of water. Paul R. Mullins and Lewis C. Jones’ Archaeologies of Race and Urban Poverty: The Politics of Slumming, Engagement, and the Color Line discusses the urban renewal and the life in slums of African Americans in 20th century Indianapolis due to class and color inequalities. P. Leone’s chapter titled African America discusses the archaeological discovery of African American cultures in the 20th century.

    The articles focus on the ethnical and racial identity seen in the archaeological record in the U.S. The articles show the historical disparity of immigrants in the U.S, and how the use consumption have an effect on the disparity. “Such tactics produce a picture of material consumption that resists being reduced simply to deterministic frameworks or agency disconnected from impoverishment and the color line, and similar tactics are reflected in other dimensions of the assemblage. For example, during World War II, many ideologues renewed the call for home food preservation, and the Agnes Street glass assemblage provides an opportunity to see how such entreaties played out in at least one set of households.” (Mullins, Paul. Jones, Lewis , 44) Consumption can have an impact on the ethnic and racial disparity in an area. Mullins, Jones and Leone’s document focuses on African Americans while Linn’s document focuses on Irish immigrants. The Irish faces a cultural difference and are able to make compromises to their tradition, while African Americans were forced to live in poor conditions due to racial inequality.


    Reflection #7

    The three readings for this week focus on ethnic and racial identity seen in the archaeological record in the US. Compare and contrast the three articles and offer your own critique on the authors’ analysis on these three papers.

    The first article by Mullins and Jones, called “Archaeologies of Race and Urban Poverty,” discusses how ideologies such as urban renewal and tenement reform were used to perpetuate color and class inequalities. They used as their case study a neighborhood in Indianapolis, Indiana, and looked at artifacts from excavations done in the neighborhood. They also looked at the history of the term “slum” and public discourse regarding urban renewal projects. They also looked at the way the people living in the said slums described the experience. The article looked at how the same old arguments are used against disenfranchised communities.

    The second article by Meredith Linn, called “Elixir of Immigration,” discusses soda water bottles commonly found in excavations of the residences of 19th century Irish immigrants to the United States. She focuses her article on the Five Points neighborhood of New York City, but believes her analysis might apply to a wider population of Irish immigrants.   She believes that soda water was important to the Irish immigrants for healing because it related to “traditional Irish practices involving water (Linn 84).” She mentions Irish holy wells which the Irish associated with healing and Roman Catholic saints and the later independence movement from Great Britain. Many Irish nationalists were part of the temperance movement, which sees alcohol as the source of many of society’s ills.   When Irish immigrants came to the United States, they associated the soda water with the holy wells in addition to being a healthy replacement drink for alcohol.   On average, Irish immigrants have been found to be less healthy than other groups at the time. Due to a mixture of economics, with a heavy leaning toward racism, they had less access to medical services. It appears that they may also have seen soda water as an actual medicine. The Irish community also would have bought soda water to support Irish owners and workers in the soda water business.

    The third reading, by Leone, is chapter seven, “African America.” It deals with artifacts of a spiritual nature which were excavated during digs at seventeen plantation sites in Annapolis, Maryland. The material is mainly from former slave quarters and dates range from late 18th century to mid-19th century. The excavated artifacts appear to have been used mostly by slaves who were trying to protect themselves from severe abuse from their cruel slave owners. The artifacts were placed in caches with pins, needles or dolls. The caches were put in specific places in the home forming a cosmogram. The cosmograms had a variety of uses. In addition to protection they were used to bring about other events, such as being freed or bring misfortune to the slaveholders. Most of the cosmograms found were apparently used in hopes of cursing the slave owners. The cosmogram is believed to be a holdover from spiritual practices in West Africa. One of the excavations was at the Maynard Burgess home on Franklin Street, which had a wealth of artifacts and provided a deeper understanding of how African Americans in that community dealt with racism. One thing the author pointed to was purchasing product from black street vendors instead of white grocers. Another was a change in diet from fish to different foods due to racist caricatures.

    All three readings, in addition to being supported by historical records, are supported by the archaeological record. In the case of the Linn article, Linn did not carry out the excavations. She is analyzing what was found. This underscores the importance of publishing and making research data available, as it allows other researchers to not only make their own analyses but to make entirely different hypotheses and conclusions using said data. One thing I want to mention is that the Leone and Linn articles use a much larger archaeological base, meaning supported by artifacts, for their conclusions than the Mullins and Jones article.   The Mullins and Jones article mostly relies on historical/written records. The Linn article, while it shows that Irish immigrants drank large amounts of soda water, doesn’t, in my opinion, convincingly tie it to either nostalgia for Ireland or religious ceremonies. One thing that I am somewhat convinced of is that the Irish immigrants were using such large amounts of soda water, at least in part, as a substitute for actual medicine. They may well have thought that the soda water and medicine were interchangeable due to having virtually no access to medical care.

    One thing that caught my attention in the Linn article was just how much soda water the Irish immigrants drank. Another thing that saddened me was the indication of poor health among the Irish. Especially at the Barrow Street site and the Five Points Feature J site, there were 33 and 72 medicine bottles respectively. Also, I find it a bit depressing that, due to the limited medical knowledge of the time, there wasn’t much of a difference between the soda water and the medicine that the Irish took. I found the Mullins and Jones article to be depressing due to how it shows that society hasn’t changed very much from the past. Community leaders that should be protecting us instead use old distorted doctrines to raze thriving communities of people of color and, in general, any disenfranchised group. In the final article by Leone the subject matter is depressing but heartening at the same time. It shows that just by holding on to your spiritual beliefs is a victory and that any form of resistance no matter how slight or seemingly inconsequential is a good thing. One of the things that I liked best was that most of the cosmograms were meant to curse the slave owners and bring about misfortune to the families of said slave owners.

    You must be logged in to view attached files.

    Matthew Wojcik

    The articles for this week reflect on how socioeconomic factors affect a person’s, or a group of people’s, quality of life. Many people come to this country seeking more financial opportunities. Sometimes they find themselves in situations that are no better than what was found at home. Racism and alienation are systemic problems that found themselves in societys around the world. This ties my previous reflection into this one quite nicely, since this problem seemed to stick with humans over millennia. Even when societys change, oppressive agencies still remains.

    Linn’s article focuses on the trials and tribulations of Irish immigrants in American. Like many immigrant groups, the Irish came here seeking a better life. In the 1840’s, a horrific famine struck potato fields, which led to rampant starvation. The British goverment did all too little to alleviate the situation. Protestant and Catholic beliefs clashed. So the Irish came here and immediately faced similar problems. Once again, Catholic and Protestant beliefs clashed. The American public viewed the Irish as disease carriers. This was a way of dehumanizing the Irish, and dehumanizing always leads to human rights violations. Whether it’s the 1840’s in the US, or the 1990’s in Rwanda, the act of degrading human life is always problematic. In American typhus was even called “Irish Fever”.  The Irish took strides in fighting the illness, mind you. The main problem was that American society barred them from getting modern medicine because of the high cost of it. Soda water was seen as a cheaper option. And it did in fact have some benefits. The minerals in the water would fight the effects of anemia. Water wells became important social spots.

    Mullins and Jones wrote about the origins of slums. This reminded me of our discussion in the map room about  redlining districts and the inherent racist policies that all too often appear in city making plans. The article goes on to mention how many of these neighborhoods are being torn down to accommodate to the whims of the politicians and corporate entities in charge. Families that live there for generations are now disenfranchised because of money. It’s a real shame how people are motivated by greed over the rights of the people. Leone wrote about life around the plantations during the days of slavery. This ties in with the whole oppressive theme of this paper. Slaves working in the plantations had certain items, that they believed they had magical properties. These items, much like the soda bottle, were important to the people who owned them. So archaeology can help bring to life the stories of all different people.


    Kelly M Britt

    Great work everyone-nice comments and synthesizing of the themes of the articles!



    Resistance to exploitation in attempts to obtain personal liberty and community freedom is a common theme in these three articles. This can be seen in this weeks articles by Meredith Linn, Paul Mullins, and Mark Leone. Exploited and enslaved people use objects as a form of resilience. They kept their traditions alive throughout time and with the use of clever tactics.

    In the article African America by Mark Leone, the archeologists uncovered various artifacts that signified resilience throughout the time of slavery. In the article, archaeologists found bones, buttons, dishes, pins and cans. Much of which they thought were garbage and proved to open a world of West African Spiritual Traditions. Caches were used to get rid of evil spirits, communicate with other ancestors, and to ask for protection. Many of the slaves that used these used them in hidden spaces. This is a powerful way to fight back against the way white slave owners tried to erase identities and strip African Americans of their roots and their hopes for a future.

    An important question the author posed a few questions questioning the importance of conformity, “Would it make your people look right? Would your people belong to more to mainstream society and be more acceptable? In other words would it reverse racist treatment?”. What was the purpose of trying to hide and conform to racist societal norms? These articles showed that the methods these people used were in order to survive and progress throughout time.

Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.

Need help with the Commons? Visit our
help page
Send us a message