The Society for American Archaeology (SAA) held its 79th Annual Meeting in Austin from April 23 through April 27. Among the Mayan, prehistoric, and European archaeologists were the historical archaeologists who study the relatively recent past of the United States. So, what does the SAA meeting have to offer historical archaeologists? The answer, this meeting has quite a lot to offer if you look hard enough. Among the hundreds of forums, symposiums, general sessions, and poster presentations, there are historical archaeologists sharing their research. They may have their own society, the Society for Historical Archaeology, but they still remain connected to the archaeological profession at large by presenting at the SAA annual meetings.
The list of historical presentations at this most recent meeting is long. Not long relative to the number of other talks, but long enough that no one person could attend them all. I spent a good hour searching for presentations on historical archaeology and the dog-eared pages of my program attest to this. Even after my careful planning, I found myself missing presentations I really wanted to catch or getting stuck in a really boring presentation because the presenters did not stick to the schedule. Also, some presenters did not show up to their presentations. So, because I know I missed some really interesting topics, I returned to the program to search out session topics with papers on historical archaeology.
Several sessions dedicated entirely to the topic of historical archaeological include general sessions on American History, the Historical Archaeology of the Western United States, and the Historical Archaeology of the Eastern United States that dealt with gender, marginality, health, subsistence, the Civil War, ethnicity, class, and sexuality. Other general sessions dealt with historic Texas and Spanish colonialism in the United States, and Historic Cemeteries. There was also a symposium on historic cemeteries focusing on remembrance and a few poster sessions on historical archaeology. These sessions generally contained papers on almost every major topic popular in historical archaeology today.
Other historical archaeologist’s papers were scattered throughout other sessions focusing on a variety of subjects. There were general sessions on archaeological practice, Cultural Resource Management, culture contact, and Maritime archaeology. There were symposiums on what archaeology should be, Native Peoples in missionized areas, New Spain, Geophysical applications, modes of production, marginality landscapes, sound and human experience, the Irish Famine, bioarchaeology, consumption, working with the Navy, and diaspora. All of these topics had at least one or two papers on historic sites. For example, the session on sound and human experience had a paper on the Industrial past. So, even if the general topic of the session was not historical archaeology, some of the papers within these sessions focused specifically on historical archaeology.
In the end, I was able to listen to nineteen papers on historical archaeology from five different sessions, as well as an entire poster session on historical archaeology, many of which were applicable to my current research interests. Some of my favorite papers were focused on topics I had recently begun exploring, including gender, class, identity, company towns, and African American communities. In particular, the paper about public space in the home is directly related to a paper I am working on about the cult of domesticity and the paper about a company town was fortuitous because I am helping with a dig at a company town this summer. Overall, the broadness of the sessions on historical archaeology allowed for such a wide variety of papers to be presented that when I did miss a paper due to unforeseen time issues there was still something interesting going about historical archaeology somewhere else.
Contributor Grace Gronniger is a graduate student in the MSU Applied Anthropology Graduate Program. Her research focus is historical archeology, specifically pattern glass in the archeological record. Visit Grace’s webpage for more information.