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Me and the Rat

Welcome to the Archaeology and Material Culture pages.  I am a Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI), where I teach Human Origins and Prehistory (Anthropology A103), Survey of Applied Anthropology (A201), Historical Archaeology (P330), Popular Culture (E354), Archaeological Theory and Method  (P402), Senior Seminar (ANTH 413), Modern Material Culture (P340) and Field Work in Archaeology (P405), an archaeological field school that is focused on the Ransom Place Historic District and surrounding areas in Indianapolis' near-Westside.  Ransom Place, which neighbors IUPUI, has been a predominately African-American neighborhood since the late-nineteenth century.  For more information on the project and field school, visit the Ransom Place page.  

I am Docent in American Historical Archaeology at the University of Oulu (Finland).  In Fall 2012 I was a Fulbright Scholar teaching at the University of Oulu.  I am Past- President of the Society for Historical Archaeology in 2012-2013.  For more on the Society for Historical Archaeology and the work of my historical archaeology colleagues, visit the Society for Historical Archaeology blog, the SHA Newsletter, and my archived blogs from 2012-2013 at SHA President's Corner.   These days I blog at Archaeology and Material Culture.  You can also .

Sample Publications (all in PDF) My research interests focus on the relationship between racism and material consumption.  My book Race and Affluence: An Archaeology of African America and Consumer Culture (Kluwer/Plenum, 1999) examines how African-American consumers in the Annapolis, Maryland area negotiated post-Civil War racism through a complex range of everyday consumption tactics that simultaneously evaded anti-Black racism and secured African Americans the modest yet very meaningful privileges of American consumer citizenship.  The book received the 2000 John L. Cotter Award from the Society for Historical Archaeology. 

My research is broadly concerned with examining how marginalized consumers--such as African Americans, working classes, Southerners, and contemporary subcultures--can criticize consumer culture's inequalities while they also press for privileges within that very society.  On the one hand, I am interested in how consumers use material goods to secure some measure of self-determination.  For instance, many African Americans often consumed model genteel goods because they understood themselves to be full Americans and did not accept the racist notion that American and Black were exclusive identities.  On the other hand, I am interested in how mass-produced objects provide a range of possible meanings that can variously accommodate resistance, simply reproduce existing inequality, or--more commonly--do both of these things.  Along these lines, for example, I have examined Barbie material culture to probe the historically complex meanings the doll's producers have forged since 1959:  at various moments and in particular consumers' hands, Barbies have been quite visionary, politically indecisive, or utterly reactionary.

Since 1999 my research has focused on the relationship between materiality and racism in Indianapolis' near-Westside.  My archaeological research focused on the Ransom Place Historic District and surrounding neighborhoods examines everyday life, materialism, and African-American culture since the late-19th century and the systematic displacement of that community after World War II for the expansion of the Indiana University Medical Center and eventually the campus of IUPUI.  Through a 2001 grant from the Indiana University Arts and Humanities Initiative, I began an archival survey of the community that once lived in the near-Westside neighborhoods that are now part of the IUPUI campus.  That survey systematically inventoried the neighborhood residents since the 1850s, their cultural identity, their occupations, where they lived, and the stores, workplaces, churches, and schools that were part of this community.   

In Fall 2010 I completed an oral history project with Glenn Stanton White that collected African-American memories of life in Indianapolis' near-Westside and the displacement of that longstanding community by urban renewal projects after World War II.  The book The Price of Progress: IUPUI, The Color Line, and Urban Displacement was released in September 2010.  The project is part of IUPUI's 40th Anniversary and is discussed on the 40th Anniversary Celebration web site.

I am interested in how archaeology can illuminate the concrete ways that various people embraced, resisted, and circumspectly became part of consumer society in the last 500 years.  I examine the archaeological study of such issues in my 2011 book The Archaeology of Consumer Culture, which is part of the University of Florida Press's The American Experience in Archaeological Perspective series.  The book examines historical archaeological studies of consumption in the United States, identifying persistent themes, unique insights provided by archaeological scholarship, and my own sense of the most fruitful directions for material culture research on consumption.

Since 2011 I have been conducting a series of collaborative projects in the UK and Europe that examine the emergence of transatlantic consumer society.  In Spring 2011, for instance,  I conducted a study of Victorian-era household material goods from a series of post-1700 London sites that are now archived in the London Archaeological Archive and Research Center (LAARC) The project uses seemingly mundane bric-a-brac to examine patterns in Victorian ideology across the Atlantic World and assess how various consumers participated in, rejected, and negotiated dominant behavioral and decorative ideologies.  In Summer 2011 I had a one-month visiting faculty fellowship in the Newcastle University School of Historical Studies and was part of the two-day roundtable meeting "Engaging with Oral History: New Developments in the Archaeology of 19th Century Britain” organized by Jane Webster.  That workshop examined recent archaeological scholarship employing oral history and linking it to a broad range of material culture.  The papers from that workshop will appear as a special issue of Historical Archaeology in 2014.

In Fall 2011 I returned to the UK to conduct research on Victorian materiality and Atlantic World notions of impoverishment, studying the Alderley Sandhills collection in Manchester, the Hungate site in York, and materials from the London Archaeological Archive and Research Center (LAARC) that I had worked with in February 2011.  Those materials are part a transatlantic sample of 18th-20th century household material goods reflecting how people marginalized along class, ethnic, and regional lines viewed material culture, consumption, and citizenship. Research from that project appeared in the International Journal of Historical Archaeology in 2012 (The Banality of Gilding: Innocuous Materiality and Transatlantic Consumption in the Gilded Age, with Nigel Jeffries) and Historical Archaeology in 2011 (The Importance of Innocuous Things: Prosaic Materiality, Everyday Life, and Historical Archaeology).

In July 2011 I spent a month at the University of Oulu, Finland working with archaeological material from the project "Towns, borders and material culture – the effects of modernisation and globalisation in the Northern Finnish towns and their hinterlands since the c. 17th century."  I was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Oulu in Fall 2012, where I have worked with Finnish historical archaeologists developing comparative scholarship that links Finnish colonization to global patterns.  Scholars at the University of Oulu have examined Finnish historical archaeological contexts since 2004, and sites in the Oulu region provide a rich range of exceptionally well-preserved urban, rural, and sub-arctic archaeological resources covering 500 years of Finnish heritage.  Nevertheless, archaeological research on Finland’s recent past is little-known outside the Nordic world, which has exceptionally rich archaeological resources and preservation.  I have contributed to research papers from the project that have appeared in Journal of Material Culture, International Journal of Historical Archaeology, Journal of Social Archaeology, and Scandinavian Journal of History.

My book Glazed America: A History of the Doughnut (University Press of Florida) came out in September, 2008.  The study uses doughnuts as a mechanism to examine consumer culture’s development over the last century-and-a-half.  Once a modestly consumed ethnic food introduced by Dutch immigrants, doughnuts were served to the troops in World War I and quickly became mass-produced indulgences after the war.  By the end of World War II, doughnut marketers blanketed the nation behind a wave of chains led by North Carolina’s Krispy Kreme in 1937 and Massachusetts’ Dunkin’ Donuts in 1950.  However, in the past 20 years doughnuts have come under attack by a host of moralizing dietary challenges and competition from forces including bagels and bourgeois coffee house chains.  Many doughnut critics cast food as a moral battleground:  Doughnuts loom as one more horrid substance we shovel into our collective mouths, symbols of Americans’ ever-increasing laziness and obesity.  In the face of the “low carb” diet movement some observers--and even a few doughnut makers--have divined the doughnuts’ imminent demise.  Doughnut consumption reflects the dominant currents in twentieth-century marketing, the dynamic meanings assumed by any one commodity, the nationalist symbolism projected onto goods and marketers, and the moralizing that a host of observers associate with particular consumption patterns.  For more on the book and project, see the August, 2008 NPR Weekend Edition blog, the Aug. 31 Weekend Edition Online Blog and Interview, ABC News's July 2008 story, a Sept. 2008 article in Indianapolis Dine, a September 24 blog piece by the Baltimore Sun restaurant critic in dining@large, and my piece in Ambidextrous for more on the project.

I teach popular culture, examining many of these same issues of inequality, materiality, and consumption in the context of more broadly defined popular cultural contexts, such as how race and dystopian sentiments are discussed in the Planet of the Apes film series.  For more on that, see my August 2011 interview with On Point (WBUR Boston).  I also appear briefly in the documentary "Anthropology: Looking at the Human Condition" in The Adventures of the Young Indiana Jones volume 3 DVD set.  My other thoughts on a variety of threads of popular culture and the material world appear on my blog Archaeology and Material Culture.

Last updated April 7, 2014