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Historical Archaeology

Historical Archaeology is a research and training focus of the archaeology faculty and graduate students at the University of Tennessee. Historical archaeologists study the emergence of the modern world from an anthropological perspective, with a special emphasis on material culture. The focus cultivates important links with faculty and students in other departments and research units of the University, including Geography and History, the Archaeology Research Laboratory, and the McClung Museum.

This research focus provides faculty and students with a collaborative setting for scholarly research, cultural resource management, and public outreach. Research addressing theoretical concerns centers on the global expansion of capitalism and variability in social complexity and systems of inequality that emerged in frontier encounters and solidified in colonial and post-colonial settings.  Methodologically, historical archaeologists and affiliated scholars are developing innovative approaches in faunal and botanical analyses, geophysics, geomorphology, and dendrochronology to address these issues.

Research is supported through the Charles Faulkner Archaeology Laboratory, curating a significant comparative collection of historic ceramics, glass, architectural fragments and other artifacts dating primarily from the late eighteenth- through early twentieth centuries, and the Faunal Laboratory, housing more than 10,000 specimens used for comparative analysis in studies of historic subsistence. Other important facilities include the Archaeology Research Laboratory, which houses the Archaeobotanical Laboratory and maintains a suite of geophysical equipment for site survey and assessment, the Laboratory of Tree Ring Science housed in the Department of Geography, and the GIS resources in Hodges Library’s Map Services.

Faculty experience in historical archaeology is wide ranging in geographical scope, methodology, and time depth. David Anderson has conducted remote sensing, controlled surface collection, and excavation on a range of historic period sites, including Civil War battlefields, tenant farmsteads, and plantation/slave village complexes throughout the Southeast and Caribbean.

Barbara Heath has worked on urban and rural sites in the Middle Atlantic and Caribbean dating from the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. Much of her research addresses the development and maturation of racialized slavery during and immediately following the era of the transatlantic slave trade as materialized in landscapes, architecture, and portable consumer goods. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in historical archaeology, historic material culture, the archaeology of the African diaspora, the archaeology of the historic Chesapeake and Upland South, and current trends in historical archaeology.

Heath and Schroedl are collaborating with and international team of scholars as well as scientists at the Missouri Research Reactor to conduct instrumental neutron activation analysis of historic West Indian pottery. The project is part of a larger effort to reconstruct the networks of production, distribution, and consumption of these wares by enslaved Africans and their descendants.

Gerald Schroedl has worked extensively on historic Cherokee sites in East Tennessee, and at Brimstone Hill Fortress, a World Heritage site located on St. Kitts in the Caribbean. His work examines the material correlates of military hierarchy and social inequality as expressed in the architecture of the fort and the material culture of its residents. He teaches courses in anthropological theory, cultural resource management, and Southeastern Indians.

Walter Klippel’s research focuses on historic subsistence practices, with a particular emphasis on marine resources, taphonomy, and historic systems of provisioning. His recent work includes the analysis of military food supply systems and diet at Brimstone Hill and the analysis of provisioned and non-provisioned foods at Poplar Forest, an antebellum plantation in Central Virginia. He teaches courses in principles of zooarchaeology and laboratory studies in zooarchaeology.

Research and teaching interests of affiliated faculty include the cultural landscapes of plantation slavery (Kandace Hollenbach, Elizabeth Kellar DeCorse, and Lydia Pulsipher), the historical archaeology of East Tennessee (Charles Faulkner and Elizabeth Kellar DeCorse), and the use of dendrochronology as an archaeological dating tool (Henri Grissino-Mayer).

Undergraduate and graduate students whose primary expertise is in biological anthropology and cultural anthropology also find the concerns of historical archaeology relevant to their interests. For example, a recent undergraduate honors thesis has combined historical archaeology with an epidemiological study of early-twentieth-century East Tennessee, while another has combined forensic evidence with the archaeology of massacre to better understand sites of organized violence in American history. Graduate work in cultural anthropology draws on the method and theory of historical archaeology in work relating to human rights, forced migration, conflict, and disaster.

Examples of current graduate student research include Master’s theses and Doctoral dissertations investigating a nineteenth-century leprosarium on St. Thomas, USVI;  the role of the Anglican church in settling the seventeenth-century frontier in the Lowcountry of South Carolina; developing an archaeological approach to studying creolization among enslaved Virginians; and exploring the changing cultural landscape of an upland South farmstead.

Contributors and Sponsors

  • The Archaeometry Laboratory at the University of Missouri Research Reactor
  • Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park Society
  • The College of Charleston
  • Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Historic Resources
  • JISC/NEH Transatlantic Digitization Collaboration Grant
  • The National Endowment for the Humanities
  • The National Geographic Society
  • The National Science Foundation
  • State of Tennessee, Division of Archaeology and Historical Commission
  • Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeologists
  • University of Tennessee, SARIF fund