Life in the Little Things

When selecting the classes I would take for Spring Quarter, I never anticipated just how well all three would align in terms of content and issues being discussed. In retrospect, it seems all too predictable that I would have gravitated to a study of labor, given how the working world and its many complexities and complications became a recurring theme. But while my courses in geography and urbanization offered a look at contemporary issues, our work in historical archaeology has allowed me an opportunity to look at some of the underlying causes and earlier-emerging instances of labor injustice, as well as both the everyday and extraordinary responses to these conditions.

My initial investigation into the historical and material records left by the industrialization of the U.S. led me to a series of interesting finds, the first being The Bread and Roses Riot of 1912. Significant for its impacts on working conditions, including an increase in wages, the riot stood out to me for the fact that it was begun by women. In January of 1912, female immigrant workers from the Everett Mill responded to recent cuts to their hours and pay with an uproar. They eventually roused tens of thousands of workers, from several locations, all calling for “bread, and roses, too!” (for a more detailed recount, see Klein 2012). The knowledge of this event in turn led me to wonder about the circumstances leading up to the riot. What did the day-to-day lives of these women look like? How did they maneuver the changing urban landscape and increasing demands of the workforce?

At this point, it seems no surprise that women and other laborers, including children, developed a number of strategies for themselves and their families that hinged on social, economic, cultural, and spatial factors. This is something we’ve seen before in historical archaeology. Indeed, to uncover and make known such strategies is tied to one of the main goals of historical archaeology: to recover the excluded past. My attempt to do just that takes the form of a short story, and can be found here if you fancy a look at one of the many ways in which such topics can be explored.

References

Klein, Christopher
2012 The Strike That Shook American 100 Years Ago. http://www.history.com/news/the-
strike-that-shook-america-100-years-ago, accessed May 28, 2015.

The Transcontinental Railroad and Racism

The results obtained through the research of people affected by the transcontinental railroad was pretty mind boggling. Although it was not really that surprising to find out that so many people were affected in a negative way, it is very mind opening to know exactly how particular people were treated just for the sake of the railroad, the ideals of white society, and the exploitation of capitalism.

The results of this research were also very sad. It makes one appreciate just how simple life is in modern times. Chinese and Irish immigrants during the construction of the railroad in the 19th century were subjected to some of the most dangerous and grueling labor practices that would (hopefully) never be allowed now. From harsh weather and little pay, to 12 hour days six days a week, this makes even the most intense labor dispute now seem petty. However, it is easy to see how these same types of practices that took place during the 19th century sort of mutate and become what labor is made of today.

Admittedly, it is pretty shameful to see how Native Americans and African Americans were treated too. From railroads being rerouted around towns to relocation of indigenous people and massacres of innocent men, women, and children, the results of this research are somewhat scary. However, it does no  good to look back and think about what could have been. Instead it is beneficial to look back and learn from our wrong doings so we can move forward for the betterment of all people regardless of racial background. This is why research such as this is beneficial to the field of historical archaeology as well to the general public. Many different people are often misrepresented throughout history and this kind of research can help open other people’s eyes to reality. 

Over the course of my research for these blog posts, one of the most interesting correlations I noticed was between trauma and incarceration. When I began this project, one issue I had to reconcile with myself was the problematic nature of the comparison I was making between native women and 19th century female prisoners. By comparing these experiences, was I saying that I think native women are in some way responsible for their captivity? Was I downplaying the severity of women’s crimes or accidentally discrediting their agency?

Now that I am deeper into this research, I have found that what ties these women together is not the experience, but the trauma. In both prisons and missions, women traumatised, both physically and mentally. Their captors/oppressors used the same tactics such and rape and forced isolation to control and dominate these women. However, the most important thing I learned through my readings and research and general contemplation was that the women I looked at were all active parts of their survival. They developed coping mechanisms and social strategies to form communities within their traumatic landscapes that helped them make the most of their situations.

If anything, working on this blog has really inspired me to keep doing this research. The hardest aspect of finishing the project for me was that I kept getting overwhelmed by the amount of work I wanted to do. There are so many interesting stories to tell, so much information to uncover, the sheer magnitude of these issues is astounding, and I want to keep doing it. It’s also so pertinent to issues and discussions going on today. Over the last couple weeks, so many times I have read articles in the current media that I wanted to cover on this blog. I do not consider my blog done. The amount of resources that I ran out of time to include, I will include in the future. I’m super pumped on this right now, and I encourage you guys to check out what I’ve written (if you want).

 

Five Points Brothels

I started my research project on New York brothels not because I had a particular affinity with them, but because we had been reading articles on the subject in class and I found it interesting.  In the course of my research I found myself becoming even more interested in these women who had chosen to live a life that we now imagine as being the last resort for the desperate.  I felt that it was really important to give these women some agency, to imbue some humanity into them.  I wanted to let these women be human, not just a female urinal or fancy china in a poorer district.

The best thing I came across while looking for sources was, unfortunately, something that turned out not to be useful for the final paper:  The Gentlemen’s Directory.  Following the link will lead you to the original article I read as well as access to a pdf of the book itself.  The sorts of houses described in The Gentlemen’s Directory are unlikely to include the sort of brothel that was described in the Five Points District.  The Directory is both advertising and an early form of Yelp, giving recommendations for where the gentleman from out of town might find some welcome entertainment.

Similar to the Five Points brothel is one found in Boston; also a sealed privy that had been found due to construction.  Following the link leads to a video in which Mary Beaudry discusses some of the finds she and her students came across starting on 2008.

In trying to make these women more human, I found myself terrified to incorrectly present stories about their past.  As the one presenting the life of another person, someone whom I have never known, I eventually was quite happy to help them be human rather than simply artifacts in a record.

Wyoming History WWCC

This specific online exhibit is an actual course taught at Western Wyoming Community College in Rock Springs, WY.The exhibit is very specific and talks about different parts of Wyoming History including Chinese immigrants, Japanese immigrants, Native Americans, the Oregon Trail, Fort Bridger, and the Great Depression.  The author of the exhibit is an instructor at WWCC named Dudley Gardner.

The exhibit definitely contains examples of archaeological materials from the Chinatown in Evanston, various petroglyphs, parts of the Oregon Trail, and numerous graphs and maps to help visualize data recorded. The various parts of Wyoming’s history are thoroughly explained and the author is holds a Phd in history and has numerous years of archaeological experience.  So the exhibit is easy to interpret as factual and represented with accuracy.

Each example from the various people who have inhabited Wyoming in the past contains various points of view and the effects of colonialism on the area. Different personal stories from the Japanese,Chinese, and Native Americans were discussed throughout the exhibit as well. The exhibit seems very truthful as well as engaging regarding the events that helped shape Wyoming.

Multiple audiences can be reached in this exhibit as well. Although this is for a specific class taught at WWCC other audiences can definitely be engaged with these examples given throughout the site. Audiences include students, professionals within the field, descendant communities, and anyone interested in Wyoming history. The pictures utilized throughout the exhibit also indicate that the communities where archaeological research took place were involved on the dig sites as the pictures included students, instructors, kids, and various other community members. Overall, this exhibit is engaging, factual, and very in depth. It is definitely worth a read! Visit http://www.wwcc.wy.edu/wyo_hist/default.htm for more information!????????????????????