This class introduces archaeological field technique and outlines a critical understanding of the methods and approaches by which archaeology and heritage are interpreted. During the summer students will be involved in all phases of field excavation, trained in lab processing, and encouraged to critically examine how archaeological knowledge is constructed and expressed. The course focuses on material culture produced since the Civil War and issues of difference along and across the color line, and some of the techniques are distinctive to how such recent urban contexts are excavated, but the course provides a solid introduction to how any archaeological site is excavated and how archaeologists investigate and interpret the material world.

This summerís excavations are part of a long-term archaeological project focused on examining the relationship between race and the material world in the near-Westside.  We examine the everyday material culture in this community as a mechanism to illuminate the complexity of living in a racialized society since the late-nineteenth century: for instance, what did these parlors, dining rooms, and living spaces contain in the past?; what did folks do in these homes?; where did residents shop, go to church, and gather?; what did their yards look like?; what sort of people lived here?; where did they come from, and in some cases where did they go?; what did they do for a living?; in sum, what was everyday life like in a vibrant multicultural neighborhood despite--and in defiance of--persistent racist boundaries?  But the questions cut much deeper into the fabric of American life:  What does it mean to be racialized?; how can any American lives be interpreted as racial subjects along a color line?; how might we conduct a "vindicationist" archaeology that unseats racist stereotypes and subsequently envisions identities outside normative racial categories?; and how can the heritage of the Africa diaspora provide a reflective insight into the most fundamental dimensions of American life?  

The Summer 2009 Field School will examine the 1911-1916 home of Madam CJ Walker and her backyard factory, which continued in use into the 1950s.  Sarah Walkerís Indianapolis venture was exceptionally successful, and in May 1911 she was sufficiently prosperous to purchase the home at 640 North West Street.  She soon after added the neighboring lot and store front to build a factory and business office.  In the rear of the yard at 640 North West Street Walker constructed buildings to test and produce Walker products, launching an internationally known firm that prospered long after her death in 1919. Madam Walker's home was built in about 1875, as were several of the neighboring homes that will be examined in Summer 2009, and the homes continued as residences and businesses alike into the 1960s.

For more background on the 2009 excavation site, see the 2009 Field School page.  For registration details, enrolled IUPUI students can contact the Registrar's Office.  Indiana University students (i.e., outside IUPUI) can get registration details at the Temporary Intercampus Transfer page.  Visiting students can get details on credit transfer on the Registrar's Visiting Students page

Volunteers are welcome to work alongside field school students.  If you would like to volunteer over the summer, please email Paul Mullins or Lewis Jones or call (317-274-9847) for details.  

Those who would like a detailed scholarly background on Madam Walker should consult On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker (A'Lelia Bundles, Scribner 2001).  The Madam C.J. Walker web page includes essential biographical background on Madam Walker.  For those visiting Indianapolis or the archaeology site, the Madame Walker Theatre Center was opened by Madam Walker's daughter A'Lelia Walker in December, 1927, and it today hosts a rich range of musical, scholarly, and cultural programs and is open for tours by appointment.

Madam Walker ad

Non-negotiable realities:

Attendance: This course will only last six weeks, so missing one day is like missing a whole week during a normal semester. Obviously there may be circumstances like illness or auto breakdowns where you might be late or forced to miss a day. If you do wake up ill, you're expected to notify me.  Please be aware that there is a significant amount of construction on the roadways around the city all Summer, so please plan to leave home sufficiently early that you do not arrive late.  Sometime shortly after field school begins, I will distribute a list of everyone's phone numbers. If you do miss a day for a legitimate reason, you will be allowed to make it up after the semester ends.  All students who miss classes will receive an incomplete until those classes are made up.  You absolutely must arrange make-up days with me before the end of the semester: if you do not arrange makeup days at the end of the semester, you will penalized a letter grade for every day you miss.  All incompletes automatically become F's in a year.

The class meets Mondays through Fridays from 8:30 to 3:00.  We will take an hour for lunch each day at 12:00-1:00; you can brown bag it or venture off to neighborhood fast food.

There are 30 class meetings during the Summer, and six-credit students are expected to attend everyday.  Students who are enrolled for four credits must arrange a summerís work schedule prior to the field school or on the first day. You will have flexibility in determining your schedule but will still be expected to attend on a regular schedule and attend a total of 20 days over the semester.

There will be no field excavation on the days it rains. When it rains we will often meet on site and then go to the Cavanaugh Hall lab (Cavanaugh 431).  Should it rain in the morning, plan to meet on site as we normally will.

You can park in  the lots adjoining the site and will not need a parking permit, however during church events we will need to move our cars.  When we are in the lab, you will need to park on campus using a University parking permit; if you do not have one, you will need to purchase a summer permit, or you will certainly receive a parking ticket. 

We will meet in the Cavanaugh Hall Archaeology Lab, Room 431, for the first few days of the semester.  Plan to be there on the first day at 9:00.

Promptness: The excavation day starts at 8:30. You will be expected to meet promptly. There occasionally may be extenuating circumstances. But if your car breaks down, the alarm fails to stir you, or you're going to be held up for some reason, you should call to let us know when you'll arrive.  Students who are chronically tardy will be expected to make missed time or be penalized.

Grading criteria: There are not papers or tests in this course, but there are certain expectations that must be fulfilled to receive a strong course grade.

First, of course, you must attend:  you can only learn to dig by actually spending time in the field digging, and this is not happening if you are not on site.

Second, everyone will be expected to follow the assigned readings and contribute actively to weekly discussions of those readings. I will schedule the readings after all three-day students have determined the days they will be present, and I will schedule the readings so everyone can present on a day they're actually on site.  Every student will spend time in our archaeology lab, where you'll be trained in basic lab processing techniques.  If you do the readings, contribute to discussions, and fulfill your responsibilities in the lab and field, you are sure to do well in the course.

Readings: Each week we will meet to discuss required readings as a group. Every student will lead one of these discussions during the semester; usually several students will serve each week as discussion leaders. If there are readings you're particularly interested in, you should volunteer to lead the discussion before the second day of field school; otherwise, I'll simply randomly assign folks to readings.  I will provide PDF's of the readings on Oncourse.

Site seminar: Once each week, we'll go around the site as a group and each talk about the excavation unit we're digging. You should talk about what has been found, identify features, consider how that unit relates to other units on the site, and so on. Although these site seminars are intended to let us all know what's going on across the site, you should approach these talks as though you were explaining what you're doing to a non-archaeologist. Think about how people who don't know excavation technique make sense of a site, and consider ways we can make it easier to understand what archaeologists do.

Volunteers: We encourage people to volunteer as field excavators. After you've dug long enough to have an understanding of excavation, you will occasionally be assigned to work in an excavation unit with these folks. You will be expected to teach the volunteers to excavate and help them think about why we do archaeology. Most of these volunteers are from Indianapolis and may be from the near-Westside, so they have a special interest in the work which we do. You should take advantage of their insights: consider what interests them about our work and think about how archaeology can more adequately address these interests. You should work with them as you would with any other member of the excavation team. If you have friends or family who are interested in volunteering, feel free to talk to us.

Site visitors and the media: During the summer we will sometimes have visitors, and it is possible those visitors may even include reporters from local newspapers or television. We will never turn away anyone who is interested in talking to us about the fieldwork, and we will have prepared handouts for folks who wish to take something away from the site. Obviously the way these people view and represent us is very important to the success of the project, so there are some basic things to keep in mind. 

When visitors ask you questions--regardless of whether its a curious neighbor or The New York Times--don't say things off the top of your head. Boneheaded off-the-cuff comments can cause us considerable grief, so think before you speak. To prepare you for such media encounters, we'll discuss what the project is interested in telling the community. You will not need to memorize a carefully worded statement, and on any given day youíll have something different to show whoever shows up at the edge of your pit, but there are some things we want folks to understand about why weíre doing this particular dig. Keep in mind that whenever we are on the site, we represent the University and a long-term research project that needs community support and interest. Positive visitor experiences and media coverage are among the most effective forums we have for telling people about our research.

Facts of Life


An archaeology site is littered with sharp tools, deep holes, broken glass, rusty metal, and a variety of safety issues, so all students will be required to review our site safety protocol, which has specific directions regarding all site safety and behavior.  A first aid kit is on site at all times containing basic supplies.  Please take site safety seriously:  in many ways this is no different than working on a construction site, so please help to make certain this is an injury-free summer.

You must have a tetanus shot before field excavation begins.

Our Friend the Sun

Many of you will notice the impressive glow your skin will have after a day or two of excavation time, and it is true that a properly managed summer of digging will result in a fine sheen, should this be what you desire. However, the sun can also make you truly miserable, and the long-term implications of sun exposure can be profoundly serious. Be sure to use sunscreen; don't worry about ruining your tan, because you're ensured plenty of ultraviolet exposure. Some folks like to wear a hat or bandanna to reduce summertime headaches -- you'll figure out what works for you. For those unfortunates who do burn or get singed in spots where the sunscreen was not liberally applied (e.g., ears, behind the knees, the crevice where your shirt creeps up your back, etc), be sure to cover those spots; few things can make your field school experience more miserable than layered sunburns.

The heat and humidity will zap much of your energy over some of these days of digging. Be aware of the symptoms of heat prostration and monitor your friends. Heat prostration is a serious health threat, so drink plenty of fluids and rest when you are tired.  Drink lots of water, even when youíre not thirsty, occasionally spend time in the shade, and let us know if you don't feel good. If you take these precautions, you'll be rewarded with a good time despite the heat.


During the summer, we are among the most visible representatives of the University and the Neighborhood Association, and we can expect visitors ranging from neighborhood folks to reporters to various authority figures. Consequently, there are some minor attire guidelines that will allow room for fashion statements without startling any of our visitors or the rest of us. Everybody must wear a shirt; tank tops are okay, but no exposed midriffs or swim suits. Always wear shoes with closed tops to protect your toes from shovels or falling buckets (i.e., no sandals or bare feet).


There will be no smoking permitted on site.


Each student will present one of the readings to the class over the course of the semester.  Most readings will have two presenters.  You can volunteer to present any reading of your choosing on a first-come, first-serve basis; any students who do not sign up by the second class will be assigned a reading.   Email me if you have any questions.  There will be a letter grade deduction for anybody who does not present a reading.


Week 1

Orser, Charles E., Jr.
1998 The Challenge of Race to American Historical Archaeology American Anthropologist 100(3):661-668.  Oncourse

Paul R. Mullins
1999   Race and Affluence: An Archaeology of African America and Consumer Culture, Chapter 1, pp.1-18.  Kluwer/Plenum Press, New York.  Ebrary (available to all IUPUI students who log in with University password)

Supplemental readings:

Kelley, Robin D.G.
1999 "But a Local Phase of a World Problem": Black History's Global Vision, 1883-1950Journal of American History 86(3): 1-54.

Mullins, Paul R.
2008 Excavating America's Metaphor: Race, Diaspora, and Vindicationist Archaeologies.  Historical Archaeology 42(2):104-122. Oncourse

Week 2

Mullins, Paul R.
2006: Racializing the Commonplace Landscape: An Archaeology of Urban Renewal along the Color Line. World Archaeology 38(1):60-71.  Oncourse

Leone, Mark P., Parker B. Potter, Jr., and Paul A. Shackel
1987 Towards a Critical Archaeology American Anthropologist 28(3):283-302
.  (This link will open to the paper for all IUPUI users). Also on Oncourse

Week 3

McDonald, J. Douglas, Larry J. Zimmerman, A.L. McDonald, William Tall Bull, and Ed Rising Sun
1991 The Northern Cheyenne Outbreak of 1879: Using Oral history and Archaeology as Tools of Resistance.  In The Archaeology of Inequality, eds. Randall McGuire and Robert Paynter, pp. 64-78.  Blackwell, New York. 

Paul R. Mullins
1999   Race and Affluence: An Archaeology of African America and Consumer Culture, Chapter 2, pp.19-40.  Kluwer/Plenum Press, New York.

Week 4

Paul R. Mullins
1999   Race and Affluence: An Archaeology of African America and Consumer Culture, Chapter 6, pp.127-154.  Kluwer/Plenum Press, New York.

Epperson, Terrence W.
1990 Race and the Disciplines of the Plantation.  Historical Archaeology 24(2):30-36. Oncourse

Week 5

Paul R. Mullins
1999   Race and Affluence: An Archaeology of African America and Consumer Culture, Chapter 7, pp.177-184.  Kluwer/Plenum Press, New York.



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Last updated May 6, 2009