We are blogging as we dig into the archaeological records archived at Independence National Historical Park (INDE) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. These records were created over the past 50 years as archaeologists researched sites within the park's boundaries. The Independence Park Archives is currently creating a Guide for this vast collection of documents. This blog serves toward that end. It functions as a platform where archaeologists, archivists, and the interested public can share ideas about how to make these materials more widely available and more useful to the user.
Read more about this project blog...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Looking Forward...

In just a few days I start a new 'excavation' into the history of the making of Independence National Historical Park, and I couldn't be more jazzed! Yes, I am an archaeologist, but this time around I am going to be digging into documents, not the ground. This is not as odd as it seems as I am an historical archaeologist and we study the more recent past using material culture, including written evidence, that has been left behind by people in the past.

For the next several weeks I will be turning that historical archaeology methodology up a notch by 'excavating' artifact residues left by some of my own colleagues. I will be trolling through documentary artifacts created during their archaeological fieldwork. Specifically, I will be evaluating and organizing the documentary evidence of a generation of archaeologists, active circa 1950-2000, who helped to locate, identify, and interpret colonial American history in Philadelphia.

I refer to this type of endeavor as 'the archaeology of archeology'. I have an on-going, research interest in the archaeological history of Independence Park and I jumped at the chance when I learned that the Archives at Independence Park wanted to create an archival finding aid for a vast set of early dating archaeological records.

You see, our nation decided to develop a national park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that would commemorate the birthplace of American democracy. Some of the earliest historical archaeology, also some of the first urban archaeology, ensued in the development of this National Park Service (NPS) unit. Since the time of the American Bicentennial in 1976, millions of US and foreign residents have annually viewed the end results of these historical archaeology efforts and those of their like-minded colleagues -- among others, historical architects, historical landscape architects, historians and curators. These cultural resource specialists brought to life a landscape with several historical sites and buildings that now serves as an important touchstone for understanding how 'we became us', the U.S.

I will be blogging as I bring my historical archaeology training (a BA in Anthropology at UC Berkeley and the MA PhD Program in Historical Archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania) to the task of developing an archival tool that others can use to access this archaeological documentation. I will evaluate a heaping pile of file boxes and create a descriptive catalogue, or inventory, of this specialized, documentary collection. These descriptions will be contextualized, or placed within the history of Independence Park's development and within the history of historical and urban archaeology. The final product, the finding aid, will be a guide to this archived collection of fieldwork documents. Included will be a summary of the collection's composition and size, a history/biography for the collection, a list of the subject matter involved, and a key for locating items.

This effort could in many ways be seen as regular old archaeology in that it is akin to an archaeological study (of sorts). It includes a site description and location, boiler plate regional historical context, an artifact catalog, and an interpretation. The finding aid will ultimately be published online at the NPS web pages so that current and future researchers and interested members of the public can find their way to and through this primary documentation.

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