Monday, July 27, 2009

Ahhh, Lists.

I'm compiling a list of primary source materials that are available in public repositories (i.e., not private collections) in an Appendix for The Book.

The nice thing is, I have 14 new pages of stuff, some of the locations previously unpublished, none of them published all together. Progress has been made, and it's exactly the type of fussy, non-big picture progress that I could handle this week.

Of course, that leaves one less fussy, non-big picture progress item for another rough week, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

15th Century Vinland Map of North America Authenticated

From a story over at the Globe and Mail: Researchers at the School of Conservation, part of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts have studied the circa 1440 map for five years. Their conclusion? The map is almost certainly authentic, "All the tests that we have done over the past five years – on the materials and other aspects – do not show any signs of forgery" (Rene Larsen, Rector of the School of Conservation). The map shows Vinlanda Insula (way to the left, in the upper corner), the Vinland of Icelandic scholars (click here for a larger version). This area is now linked to Newfoundland and Labrador, where there is extensive archaeological evidence of Norse settlement dating to AD 1000 at L'Anse aux Meadows. The L'Anse aux Meadows site is a National Historic Site in Canada, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (sorry for the link to Wikipedia; the Parks Canada website for L'Anse aux Meadows is being fussy).

I enjoy working with historic maps, tracing the history of an area back through time. Actually, I usually trace the history forward through time. I should try writing it the other way sometime; see what that does. Anyway... the maps. More recent maps are great for me as an archaeologist, because they tend to be more accurate (not completely accurate, mind you). Using these maps, I can address very specific locations of archaeological sensitivity or areas that have been disturbed to the point that no archaeological resources are likely to remain intact. Very practical!

But I really love working with the earlier maps. The ones with pictures of whales in the water; the ones that look more like landscape paintings than maps; the ones with coastlines that make sense if you're drawing them from a boat as you pass and are helpful for other mariners, but don't seem to make a lick of sense in any other context. Despite my "Here be Dragons" romanticism, these maps also often contain good information about the relationships of things and people. To interpret these, I have to look at landmarks, and think about things that were important enough to record. Here's one of my favorites of the Delaware River, "Caert vande Svydt Rivier in Niew Nederland" by Joan Vinkeboons c. 1639 (you can see it larger here):

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Looking into the Past: Photos by Jason Powell

These are two of a series of photos by Jason Powell in which he prints out old photographs and manually overlays them on existing conditions and takes a photo (go, go look at the larger versions via the link. They're worth it! Just come back, 'kay?). I've done some digital overlays in researching sites, and those are often a pain to line up, so I'm very impressed that Jason does his overlays manually, and in the field.

I love the time-travel aspect of these photographs, like you could step right into the past. I love the sense these give that history is something you can touch, experience, and interact with. It isn't just static words in a textbook, it's all around us. And that the histories of people and places are intertwined.

I wonder if I could get away with this in an archaeology report?

Hat tip to Book of Joe.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fieldwork Shot

Excavations were done inside this building prior to demolition. I love the buckets and the lighting in this photo!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Random Snark: Confirmation Hypocrisy

Re: Sotomayor's confirmation. I know, I know... politics isn't about consistency or anything. But seriously ... for all those insisting that Supreme Court Justices shouldn't be influenced by their political views, experiences, or upbringing... why the H-E-double-hockey-sticks, then, do you get your knickers so tied up in knots about making sure Justices share your political views about things like gun control and abortion? PICK ONE!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Book Report: PROGRESS!

So, writing takes a lot longer than I'd hoped/wished/planned. I mean, I write all the time at work, but those are reports, with templates. The book? The book is different. It probably has less to do with the difference between reports with templates and books than it does with emotional attachment, personal investment, and putting myself and my ideas OUT THERE.

Still, I ABC (apply butt to chair - h/t Clio Bluestocking) on a regular basis, and sit put until I get something accomplished, fry my brain, or the day ends (usually a combination of the above). Today... today I took 20 pages of *stuff* and synthesized a chapter, which I have dutifully popped off to my editor. I am happy. And I have fodder for articles. Cool fodder for cool articles (well, for archaeologists interested in this particular corner of the field, anyway). Now I just need to secure permissions to turn certain accumulations of said fodder (which isn't mine) into an illustrated article, wherein I connect an apparently unconnected series of dots, the larger meaning of which escapes me. Perhaps article is too strong a word. Perhaps a research note.

Did I mention I got a chapter done? Damn, this thing may get finished after all.

I'm not a medievalist, but...

... here I am busy researching (briefly) the history of the College of Arms and writing about heralds and Deputy Earl Marshals. Well, ok, I'm actually poking around in the early, early modern history (ca. 1500s/1600s), but still -- my focus is mid-nineteenth century America for this particular project. And it's not even a tangent!

Research is fun.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Layers out of the Dead and Patriarchal Equilibrium

I was doing some research recently in Philadelphia, combing through early nineteenth century City Directories on microfiche. I wasn't looking for a person, but for a profession or professions. Anything that might fall under the rubric of undertaker; although they didn't catch on in the United States until later in the century, someone was peddling funeral accessories in Philadelphia in the 1810s and early 1820s. I had no luck in my search (for starters, the early directories are organized by surname, not by business type, and I ran out of time to scan all the individuals for profession).

What I did find was intriguing. Starting around 1810, some of the compilers of City Directories began listing "Layers Out of the Dead" in the same section as physicians, midwives, bleeders with leeches, bleeders (presumably without leeches), and dentists (Laderman 1996). I recorded these lists for 1816, 1820, 1823, and random entries from an 1822 "Supplementary" section from a directory without a specialized list of practitioners. These layers out of the dead were predominantly women (of the 36 entries I recorded, one for certain was for a man, three entries for the same individual was probably for a man, and two more (both for a single individual) might be for a man). None of the people in the lists I recorded were African-Americans.

Although other researchers have noted that layers out of the dead were often widows, only one of the entries I recorded specifically noted she was a widow (Rebecca Graff, 1820). There were several women who were single (no man with the same last name living at the same address), and several who were either listed as "Mrs." or who had a male with the same last name residing with them. In several examples, the woman appears only in the list of layers out of the dead, and not in the list of Philadelphia residents; only the male with the same last name is listed (presumably, these are the husbands; I wonder if brothers and unmarried sisters living together would also share a single entry, or would get separate ones). There is one example of two women with the same last name living at the same address (sisters? mother and daughter?); while I know one laid out the dead, I don't know what the other did for a living, as both women shared an entry (the usual entry takes the form of "Henderson James, carpenter, 222 South Third"; this 1820 entry reads only "Osborne Hannah & Sarah, 1 Laurel").

Some women kept their mortuary activities separate from their other business pursuits and their regular Directory entry either neglects to mention a profession (as in the case of S. Snowden in 1820 and Sarah Osborne in 1823), or lists a completely different profession (as in the case of Elizabeth Helmbold, midwife in 1816 and Sarah Snowden, mantuamaker in 1823). These women often had more than one job -- laying out the dead as well as mantuamaker (Sarah Snowden, 1823), midwife (Elizabeth Hembold, 1820), boarding house keeper (Jane Hook, 1820). Laying out the dead was apparently not terribly lucrative, as even William Adams in 1822, the only individual I recorded that was definitely male, also worked as a scrivener and teacher.

As far as my research goes, this is fascinating as it shows a specialization in dealing with the dead into the early 1800s. Could the business of laying out the dead extend further back than 1810? Possibly; the City Directories for Philadelphia in the microfiche collection I was looking at go back only to 1785, and it seems it was only a particular publisher who included lists of layers out of the dead. I did not find this profession in the 1800 City Directory that I read in its entirety -- but that could be a fluke of that particular directory rather than documenting the absence of the profession. I'd have to look at more examples of earlier directories; I looked at 1800, then skipped to 1823 and worked my way backwards, and quit at 1816.

There was also a tantalizing hint at further specialization in mortuary trades: an 1822 entry lists Richard Life, manufacturer of black bordered letter paper, and visiting cards for mourning. He appeared in a list of "Removals" (folks who had left Philadelphia), but I was unable to find him in earlier directories. I also found an 1800 entry for John Leacock, coroner.

All that background brings me to the patriarchal equilibrium part of this. In her book, History Matters, Judith Bennett describes the brewing trade in late Medieval England. It is "a story of radical change, a story of how women were forced out of the trade as it became profitable and prestigious.... In 1300, women controlled the trade in brewed drink; by 1600, it was controlled by men" (p. 72). It is also the story of continuum; in 1300, when brewsters (female brewers) controlled the trade, it wasn't much of a trade to control. It was a low-skilled, low-profit, low-status endeavor. As technology changed and profits increased, women were increasingly excluded from brewing -- either explicitly or because they couldn't afford to purchase the new equipment. They left brewing, and continued to patch together an economic existence by taking in sewing, serving the drinks they used to brew, hiring themselves out as domestics, selling eggs, and laying out the dead (aha! in England, then, it goes back to medieval times.).

By the middle of the nineteenth century, and most especially after the Civil War, the mortuary trades in the United States had become professionalized and specialized. Undertakers, embalmers, specialized coffin manufacturers, coffin hardware manufacturers, burial garment factories, all made scads of money supplying what had become the needs of death. And the vast majority of them (if not all of them) were men. Sure, women worked in some of the factories, but these were low-skilled, low-status jobs that paid miserably and were often catastrophic, health-wise. Undertakers took care of the bodies post-mortem, and women were forced out of yet another means of eaking out a living, just as what they'd already been doing became a profitable business.

I'm sure there are many other examples.


Bennett, Judith M. (2006) History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.
WorldCat Link.

Laderman, Gary (1996) The Sacred Remains: American Attitudes Towards Death 1799-1883. Yale University Press, New Haven. WorldCat Link.

Philadelphia City Directories for 1800, 1816, 1820, 1821, 1822, 1823. Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Call No.: Wa .01 Link to HSP Catalog.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Slave Names and Identity

I haven't posted lately; I've been up to here [waves at eyeballs] with research and fieldwork and teaching, oh my!

I stumbled across this during research for a project I'm working on. It directly contradicts the chestnut that freed slaves necessarily retained the surnames of their last owner. If this idea of agency is extended, perhaps there is no reason to believe that slaves retained their last white-bestowed given names, either.

"At that conference, C.C.Gaines, a Hudson River Valley college president, recalled that slave surnames sometimes revealed a 'mark peculiar to the person or incident to his history.' Forexample, sold slaves 'often were known by the surname of an original master who might then be dead.' Gaines commented: 'You will find many negroes to-day who do not retain the surname of their last owner, but are known by that of a remote ancestor who years ago came out of another estate. [Ex-slaves] chose such names as they pleased, and many of them observed such reasonable rules as to ancestry as naturally applied.' Gutman's research showed that 'ex-slaves put aside a final owner's surname and replaced it with either the surname of an earlier owner or the surname of a parent's or a grandparent's owner.... Sale or separation for other reasons, from a slave family of origin encouraged slaves to retain different surnames from their newowners."

Quinn, Edythe Ann (2003) The Kinship System in The Hills, An African American Community inWestchester, New York, in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. IN Myra B. Young Armstead, Mighty Change, Tall Within: Black Identity in the Hudson Valley, State University of New York Press, Albany, New York, pp. 95-120. Worldcat Link.

Certainly, this makes it more challenging to trace individuals in their transition from slave to free using census data, etc. And this is something I've run into in the work I'm doing right now; earlier research assumed the family's surname was that of the patriarch's last owner. Beyond that, though, I am intrigued about the opportunity by people who are generally seen to have little control in their lives (owned, then free, but perhaps indentured; poor; etc.) to create their own identity, and by extension, that of their future families. Sure, I can go change my name at the DMV, but this was an entire group of people over a long period of time. Are there other examples where entire classes of people have the opportunity to select their own, legal names? I have more to think about this, but I find it very interesting.

I also have a post brewing about Native American slavery that you just don't hear about...