All workshops can be adjusted to meet the language level of any class, just ask!
Stuff! American society through its cultural artifacts
We can learn so much about the beliefs and values of American culture by looking at the stuff Americans use every day. These things can be as small as the contents of our pockets (cash or credit? Apple or Android?). They can be as large as the buildings and landscapes we walk through. They can even be entirely immaterial—digital files, for example. The early days of American consumer culture can be studied using archaeological data and sources like the store account books from Stagville Plantation in North Carolina. How similar are people today to the shoppers of the 1800s?
The history of “race” in America
Opinions about race and racism in America abound, but “race” is a relatively recent invention. This workshop examines how ideas about race have shaped American history and how America’s history has produced specific ideas about race. Examples range from the arrival of Africans at Jamestown, Virginia in the early 1600s, to confrontations on the frontier during America’s westward expansion, to the Civil Rights movement, to the American Census in the 21st century.
American college culture
Attending college is an important rite of passage for many American teenagers. What is the experience like for them? Universities express aspects of American culture in microcosm. They reinforce and echo our fascination with sports. Anxieties about admission and grades reflect American ideas about work, achievement, and meritocracy. Universities reproduce America’s class system, both on campus, and in the lives of their graduates. Anthropologists have studied the university from the inside out, even to the point of going undercover in a first-year dormitory! Their research highlights students own perspectives on what it means to be a college student in the US today.
Language diversity in the US
Americans acknowledge certain ways of speaking English as “correct.” But not everyone speaks that way, and not all of the time. Spanglish, slang, Black Vernacular English, regional accents, and the language of texting are all examples of non-standard English. How do these varieties differ from “proper English?” What are their histories? What do they mean to the people who use them and how does their use shape American society? How do Americans really talk?
Black Chicago in the 20th century
The city of Chicago changed radically in the first half of the 20th century. African Americans leaving the South caused cities like Chicago to grow rapidly and become closely associated with the culture of the new migrants. Using texts such as the Chicago Defender (an African American newspaper), letters from migrants, maps of the city, and selections from the epic ethnography Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (1945), students will learn about African American life during the era of America’s “Great Migration” from the rural South to the urban North. These materials, along with photos, video and sound recordings, provide a window onto mid-20th-century African American life.
The archaeology of American slavery
Archaeology is one way we can learn more about the experiences of enslaved people in the Americas, and about the institution of slavery itself. This is especially so because enslaved people left their own archaeological traces, unlike most written sources about slavery that were produced by slave owners. Artifacts, archives, and other data—much of it online—can be used to teach students at many levels of expertise about America’s “peculiar institution.” Consider, for example, life in a slave quarter in the old South compared with enslavement on the frontier, or the range of outcomes for slaving voyages during the Middle Passage, or even the consequences of slavery for people half a world away, in Scandinavia.
Intersectionality in America: The Life of Pauli Murray
“Intersectionality” is a key concept for understanding inequality in diverse societies such as the US. Human rights activist Pauli Murray developed a similar idea she called “Jane Crow,” to express how racism and sexism come together in the lives of African American women. Her story offers a window onto larger themes in American history, including the struggles for civil rights and women’s rights in the 20th century. We will explore the life of this civil rights icon—less well known than some others—through oral history interviews, her autobiographies and poetry, as well as material brought to light by archaeological excavations at the site of her childhood home.