It’s time for students to start registering for my next ANTH 3130: Excavating Hamline History class. This is by far my favorite class to teach and I’m excited about the plans for this fall’s excavations and research.
This class offers a unique opportunity to participate on an archaeological excavation as part of an interdisciplinary and collaborative project. It’s an interdisciplinary class because of the students. I ask each of you to contribute to the overall project goals based on either your major studies or other areas of interest and expertise that you have.
Your contribution may be in a research area – where you apply your research skills to questions about the sites, or the artifacts, or the historical background. Over the years I’ve had a Chemistry major analyze brick mortar, an English major collecting oral history stories from people who grew up in the neighborhood, and a Business major studying the financial records from the University archives. Not all students collaborate through research. Our project incorporates the goals of public history and neighborhood archaeology – meaning that we seek to involve the entire Hamline-Midway community. I’ve had a Communications Study major develop a social media campaign to improve the public participation in our project, an Art major create a participatory art work that was particularly popular with families attending our public digs, and an Education major bring Hancock/Hamline Elementary students to join our dig. The point is, you can pursue just about any idea you want – from art to women’s studies. What you need is an ability to collaborate on the project’s goals, an enthusiasm for interdisciplinary methodology, and a willingness to connect with the community in the exploration of our neighborhood’s public history.
You also need a willingness to participate in archaeology fieldwork. The core of the class is an excavation. Over the years we have dug at a variety of sites throughout the Hamline-Midway area – a church ruins, a segment of a Territorial road, Hamline’s original University Hall, and a number of ‘backyard’ sites associated with neighborhood houses. This year’s site is one of the ‘backyard’ sites – known as “830 Simpson Avenue“. This rather mundane name identifies the location of an early house in the Hamline neighborhood. We don’t yet know a lot about this house, but it shows up on local plat maps dated to 1886. By 1916 Hamline University purchased this house, moving it across Hewitt Avenue in 1946 where it was eventually demolished.
We first began excavating at the 830 Simpson site in 2013 finding a wide range of artifacts dating to the late 19th Century including fragments of bone toothbrushes, clay smoking pipes, and shell buttons. We also found artifacts that belong to the 20th Century occupation of the house including objects most likely associated with student residents such as a metal case filled with lead graphite points for a mechanical pencil. More important than the artifacts, the soils containing these objects were essentially undisturbed beyond the effects of the prior occupations – meaning that 830 Simpson Avenue site is one of the better preserved archaeological sites on Hamline campus.
The University administration designated the site as an outdoor classroom reserved for our future excavations and I expect that we will be digging here for a number of years. Our research will focus on issues surrounding the transformations in American society during the period of occupation – transformations in consumerism, education, family structure, and urban development. We will also explore issues of neighborhood history and preservation – including the relationships between campus and our surrounding community. Was there a “stop the demolition” movement in 1914? What happens to a neighborhood when houses are removed? What happens to neighborhood history? What happens to local memory? I think that our excavations at the 830 Simpson site will provide a vehicle for our exploration of many issues, both big and small, that affect people living in the 21st Century.
So, I’m looking for a group of students that are willing to work hard – no matter the conditions (we dig even when its cold, wet, and muddy). You have to commit to helping with at least one of two Saturday digs when the public can join our excavations (one near the end of September, the second in mid October). Otherwise the qualities I most want are students who are creative, ready for a challenge, and who would enjoy a non-traditional educational experience.
If this sounds interesting then write a brief comment to this post outlining what ways you could contribute to this fall’s class. Also tell me a little bit about yourself (including your major and year). Finally, I would like to know why you are interested in joining the class and what you hope to gain from your participation.
Registration note: I recommend that everyone sign-up for a back-up class if your turn to register comes up before I have decided which of you to accept into this class.