Slavery in the Roman Empire vs. North American Colonies

In this research, I wanted to look at two different forms of slavery, one rooted in ‘ancient’ history and one which falls within the “early modern’ period, but with lasting effects which are still seen in today’s society. One of my other goals for this research was to compare the structural aspects of slavery and the ‘echoes’ from slavery in the Roman Empire to slavery in North American British Colonies. Some of the problems I faced was the not only the vast time period differences between the two, but also that other forms of slavery had also greatly impacted slavery in the North American British Colonies.

In the Roman Empire, slaves could obtain freedom much more quickly than slaves during 1600s-1800s in North America. Also, in the Roman Empire, slaves were at times educated, held status within their households and were valued by their owners. That is not to say that all slaves within the Roman Empire had access to these aspects, but they were present and common practice within Roman society. In comparison, slaves in North America were not afforded these features, they were a source of labor and, eventually in the Southern Colonies, they became essential for the economy. Furthermore, slaves during the Roman Empire were typically ‘white’ and viewed as a person/human being. While in the North American Colonies, slaves were typically black or Indian, no white person was enslaved, and slaves were typically not viewed as having the same rights as free individuals, nor were they believed to be fully human.

The slave trade which existed in the Roman Empire greatly differed from the form of slavery which the British were introduced to when obtaining slaves from Africa. What I found was that while originally having some similar structural components to slavery, like a free labor source and creating a social hierarchy, these two forms of slavery had different cultural, social and political aspects and values. In today’s society individuals like Whitney Battle-Baptiste examine not only the slave narratives, but also how archaeology can be used to reform ideas about slavery and how it impacts current communities today.

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.


Klein, Christopher
2012 The Strike That Shook American 100 Years Ago.
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. 

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.