Community Archaeology: Practice and Potential
Saturday February 25. 1pm – 4.30pm, Cross Street Church (Between Knowles and Vine St, opposite the Freeman Athletic Center)
1.15pm, Cheryl LaRoche (U of Maryland) “The Power of Community: Archaeology, the Black Church, and the Landscape.”For more than ten years, my work with the public has stood on four pillars: archaeology, the black community, the black church and the landscape. Using several sites to examine the interactions between the archaeological community, and the public, my talk will highlight the power of communities in action in both contemporary and pre-civil war historic contexts.
2.30pm, Stephen Silliman (U Mass Boston) “The Eastern Pequot Archaeological Field School: A Community Collaboration in Connecticut”This talk will discuss the origin and trajectory of the multiyear collaboration between the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation and the Anthropology Department at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Since 2003, this project in southeastern Connecticut has provided eight summer archaeological field courses for undergraduates, graduate students, and Native American community members that have focused on recovering new dimensions of Eastern Pequot reservation life from the late 17th century into the 20th century. The objectives have been to train students in archaeological techniques, the study of colonialism and its legacies, and collaborative methodologies while simultaneously orienting learning and research outcomes to benefit the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation’s efforts at historic and cultural preservation and community education.
3.15pm, Whitney Battle-Baptiste(U Mass Amherst) “An Archaeology for the Living: Bringing the Past into the Present Through Dialogue, Collaboration, and Real Exchange.”In recent times historical archaeologists have used terms such as, “engaged” and “community-based,” in descriptions of their archaeological projects. However, as we move closer to an archaeology that transcends borders and boundaries, we have to broaden our understanding of who and what community is and what our role as scholar contributors are. I will highlight some of my past experiences and reveal some current challenges in the shaping of an interpretive message at the W E B Du Bois National Historic Site in Great Barrington, MA.
4.00pm, discussion, followed by a reception and informal conversation
Background to the Beman Triangle:This public symposium takes place to highlight the abilities and issues of community archaeology as we begin a project on the Wesleyan campus. this project
In 1830 the first AME Zion Church on Cross Street, Middletown, was constructed, one of the first in the country, built by a congregation who had been meeting for seven years. With the new church came a pastor; Jehiel Beman, a local man (from Colchester, CT). Jehiel’s father, Ceasar, had been freed for taking part in the Revolutionary War in place of his white master. Jehiel’s sons were to go on to further the work of the Church, and of the African American community in Middletown.
Leverett C. Beman (1810-1883), the eldest son, was a trained shoemaker and had kept a shop with his father on Williams Street. In 1843, Leverett bought a house on the corner of Cross and Vine Streets (around the spot where Neon Deli now stands), commissioning a survey in 1847 of what we now call the “Beman Triangle”; land between Vine, Cross, and Knowles Streets. Members of the AME Zion Church began to populate other houses on the land. Within the next forty years, the African Americans living here became a stable community, with most managing to pay off their mortgages. They, and the Church, were active in the Underground Railroad. Three men from the neighborhood served in the Civil War. By the turn of the twentieth century the neighborhood was changing, and African Americans were moving out of Middletown in the face of changing employment opportunities offered in the industrializing city. But the Triangle retained its centrality to the AME Zion community with the re-location of the church itself from the top of Cross Street, where the Exley Science Center now stands, to the spot in which – until three years ago – continued to be their place of worship.
The Beman Triangle then, is a site which shows the changing nature of the African American community in Middletown, tied together by the centrality of the AME Zion Church. Today the site is on the State Register of Historic Places, to recognize the importance of the former residents of the Beman Triangle in their ability to build community and prosperity, and their participation in the Underground Railroad and the Civil War. The community archaeology project planned at the site continues from some initial excavations which have demonstrated the potential of archaeology to bring to light the artifacts of daily life for former Beman Triangle residents. Through this work, we hope to bring together the Wesleyan, AME Zion, and wider Middletown community to explore and remember the history of life at the site. Historical archaeologists in similar contexts have shown that it is possible through examining materials – such as table wares, food containers, and knick-knacks – in use by the Beman community, that we will be able to learn more about the realities of the everyday social life of the residents, something it is almost impossible to glean from the limited historical records available. We also hope to raise the profile of the site and to work towards placing it on the National Register of Historic Places. In beginning to present the ways in which community archaeology projects have faced challenges, but have come to be deeply engaged with various social groups and individuals, this public archaeology symposium offers the chance for the wider Wesleyan and Middletown communities to come together to learn about the potential of this archaeology project. Beginning in April we will begin excavations on the Beman Triangle, involving Wesleyan students and the wider AME Zion and Middletown community, with research directions being shaped by the interests of all participants.
Sponsored by:Academic Affairs
African American Studies
Office for Diversity
Service Learning Center
For more information about the AME Zion Church history in Middletown and its connections to Wesleyan, check out the online exhibition from the Special Collections and Archives, Olin Library: “Cross Street AME Zion Church: Struggle, Jubilee, Vision.”