The following is a blog post by graduate student Mike Roller:
My name is Michael Roller. I am a Ph.D student in the Department of Anthropology here at College Park. My research focus is historical archaeology, and my current research concerns labor relations, conflict and daily life in a Pennsylvania coal town. In this blog post I am going to talk about the far end of the process of excavation. You might ask what happens to all the data we collect in the field after the holes are filled in, the artifacts are analyzed, and the reports have been written. In my second year of study in the Department of Anthropology I worked on a massive archiving project for Archaeology in Annapolis. This project was funded by the Historical Archives Program of the Wenner Gren foundation. This funding allowed a team of students to organize, catalogue and rebox the research material, field paperwork, lab and data analysis notes, maps and finished reports of the more than thirty-year-history of the Archaeology in Annapolis project. This material is now stored in Hornbake library in an archival conditions. It can now be freely accessed by members of the research community and the public. A searchable database of the material can be accessed here. We also scanned all of the reports written by the project throughout its history, making them available for download on DRUM, the Digital Resources of the University of Maryland.
The gargantuan task of examining every piece of available documentation for this tremendous undertaking was a challenge I could not resist. Within our discipline, the Archaeology in Annapolis project is incomparable in scope and depth. In the course of more than forty excavations it has examined the ways social groups, power and ideology have coursed through the fabric of this small but important city. In the process it has explored many of the most complicated aspects of American history. It has also been relentlessly critical and reflexive in examining the ways knowledge or interpretations of the past are produced, developing theories and practices that have been highly influential throughout the discipline. Tracing this process, how the past and present are explored archaeologically, was what I was most interested in observing as I went through the archives. I also understood that the process of making this material freely available to the public serves an important ethical function in the theoretical legacy of this and all archaeological projects.
While archaeology begins with the very visceral and immediately powerful experiences of fieldwork, it must then be translated into text and image for it to travel far beyond this moment. In a sense, this might seem to be a contradictory or inimical process. The strength of archaeology is its capacity to complicate and challenge text-based history with the material of everyday life. In a sense, this material is already archived in the ground but unavailable. Unlike the reading of documents, however, archaeology is destructive to its subjects. The only thing that can mitigate this is careful documentation of the process and its preservation thereof. Archaeology in Annapolis has always pursued a research agenda that shares the potency of this research process with the public, inviting it too to think deeply and critically about the past and present. Researchers in the future may bring to this data new ways of understanding the past, bringing to light aspects of Annapolis’ social history that we might not yet understand or be aware of in the present.
In short, archaeologists are in the business of challenging official historical archives, looking into the spaces and silences for the lives of people who have been left out. While the archives they consult may leave these people out, the archives they leave behind will certainly be alive with their presence.