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2009 Field School

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Archaeological and Historical Survey of the IUPUI Campus

2002 Field School

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2000 Field School

1996-1997 excavations at 941 Camp Street

In the nineteenth century, families came to Indianapolis from the South, Europe, the East, and the rural Midwest and settled in the Circle City.  The city's near-Westside became home to many of these new arrivals, including a large African-American community that lived along and near Indiana Avenue.  With the Avenue as its central artery, the near-Westside became home to a legion of Black businesses ranging from barber shops and undertakers' parlors to the Indianapolis Recorder's offices and the world-renowned Madam C.J. Walker's beauty supply plant.  Alongside this business community emerged numerous social institutions like churches and fraternity halls, a thriving and influential jazz scene on the clubs along Indiana Avenue, and homes to all class of folks.  One of the families living in this community was the Ransoms, whose patriarch Freeman B. Ransom (1882-1947) was the Walker company's general manager, and today the Ransom Place Historic District bears the Ransoms' name.

Today the Ransom Place Historic District includes a mix of vernacular homes dating from Reconstruction onwards, and the surrounding neighborhoods include a refurbished nineteenth-century canal, the African-motif Walker Theatre built in 1927, Crispus Attucks High School, and the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI).

Ransom Place Archaeology is a cooperative project between IUPUI and the Ransom Place Neighborhood Association.  The project uses archaeological excavations, oral historical research, and public interpretation to probe the complex confluence of African-American culture, business and consumption, and race and racism in Indiana's capital city.  In Summer 2005 the IUPUI Archaeology Field School is conducting its sixth year of excavations in the near-Westside, which included homes, businesses, and all sorts of social institutions from the mid-nineteenth century onward.  African Americans have lived in this community since the 1840's, and their neighbors included virtually every European immigrant group that came to Indianapolis in the nineteenth century:  Irish, German, Russian, Hungarian, and Italian newcomers were among the people who called the near-Westside home.  By the early twentieth century, Ransom Place and the neighborhoods closest to Indiana Avenue had become predominately African American, and they remained so until the community's decline from the 1950's onward.

The Archaeology Field School (Anthropology P405) is offered every Summer and is open to any undergraduate student for four to six credits.  The Summer 2009 Field School is being held on North West Street at the circa 1911-1916 home of Madam CJ Walker .  You do not need to be an Anthropology student or have any archaeological coursework or experience.  Students are trained in field excavation methodology, public interpretation, laboratory analysis, and archaeological theory.  Students learn to identify nineteenth- and twentieth-century material culture, excavate historic urban deposits, and work actively with many visitors and our partners in the Ransom Place Neighborhood Association.  For registration details, enrolled IUPUI students can contact the Registrar's Office.  Visiting students can get details on credit transfer on the Registrar's Visiting Students page.  For details on the class schedule, visit the course syllabus

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

2004 IUPUI Archaeology Field School

May 19, 2004 at the Ransom Place Heritage Learning Center with Thomas Ridley.

2003 IUPUI Archaeology Field School

May 14, 2003 at the Ransom Place Heritage Learning Center with Thomas Ridley (rear, left) and Ransom Place Neighborhood Association Past-President Daisy Borel (rear, center)

  2002 IUPUI Archaeology Field School

May 8, 2002 at Ransom Place Heritage Learning Center with Thomas Ridley (far right)

2001 IUPUI Archaeology Field School2001 IUPUI Archaeology Field School

May 9, 2001 at Ransom Place Heritage Learning Center with Thomas Ridley (far right)

2000 IUPUI Archaeology Field School

Click here for a map of the IUPUI campus in 1901

Today the near-Westside is covered by University buildings, grounds, and parking lots that sit alongside a scatter of state buildings, businesses, and apartments.  Yet the traces of past landscapes survive archaeologically today across the IUPUI campus; elders have rich memories of these neighborhoods; and a mountain of documents survives awaiting thorough analysis.  Since Summer 2001, Ransom Place Archaeology has been conducting an Archaeological and Historical Survey of the neighborhoods that once covered the IUPUI campus.  The project was made possible by an Indiana University Arts and Humanities Initiative Grant, and this support will make it possible to begin to develop a systematic history of the space that is now occupied by IUPUI.   This survey will provide reliable documentary information on these neighborhoods and help the community and university manage the heritage beneath campus.

In Summer, 2000 Ransom Place Archaeology conducted its first season of archaeological excavations in the Ransom Place neighborhood.  800 Camp Street has since been landscaped by the Ransom Place Neighborhood Association, but it had structures in it from about 1889 to 1960.  During that period it was a small corner grocery.  Visit the site history page and fieldwork reports for details on the excavations.  You will find a link to the subsequent report at the bottom of each of the field reports (e.g., a link to the May 26th report is at the end of the May 17th report), so you can read them in the order they were written or simply click to the right on whichever link you want to visit. 800 Camp Street links

The Summer 2001 Field School was conducted at the Evans-Deschler Site, the site of an African-American boarding house and a German-American meat packing shop that sat three feet from each other here in the near-Westside.  German Americans like the Deschlers were the most common European immigrants in Indianapolis after 1850, and today one-quarter of Indianapolis residents claim German ancestry.  For more details on the site, visit the 2001 Field School web page.  For more on German-American heritage in Indianapolis, visit the IUPUI Max Kade German-American Center and the IUPUI Library's online exhibit Shaping the Circle: German Americans in Indianapolis, 1840-1918.  In Summer 2002 we again conducted excavations in the Ransom Place Neighborhood on California Street.  For information on that project, visit the 2002 Field School page.  In Summer 2003 we conducted excavations at Agnes Street, on the campus of IUPUI and the future site of the University Campus Center.  In 2004 we excavated at the former home of Joseph and Zella Ward.  In 2005 and 2006 we have been conducting excavations at the California Street site, three residences in the 900 block of California Street.

In 1996 and 1997, IUPUI students under the direction of Indiana State Archaeologist Dr. Rick Jones excavated a site at 941 Camp Street that included a nine-foot deep well filled in the 1930s.  Click on the graphic to the right for pictures of artifacts and preliminary findings. Archaeology at 941 North Camp Street
Do you know something about the Ransom Place neighborhood?
Many elders and some not-so-old folks can remember life in the near-Westside very clearly.  The seemingly unimportant details of everyday life--where kids played, who employed folks in the community, what people did for a living, where they shopped, how they decorated their homes--are the very things we want to know about before they become forgotten.  A central element of our research project is the collection of oral testimonies by folks who lived in the near-Westside or know a lot about the neighborhood.  If you or someone you know might be a potential oral history resource, please call or email and we can discuss exactly what is involved:  it's easy and very important, because memories can become lost resources just like historical documents or archaeological sites.
Email Dr. Mullins at
Return to Archaeology and Material Culture Home PageThis page was last updated February 23, 2009