Comparative Colonialism and Collections-Based Archaeological Research

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ABSTRACT

Legacy collections are an increasingly valued source of information for researchers interested in the study and interpretation of colonialism in the Chesapeake Bay region of North America. Through the reexamination of 34 archaeological collections ranging in date from 1500 through 1720, researchers, including the author, have been able to document interactions among Europeans, Africans, and indigenous people in this part of the early modern Atlantic. We could do this only because we turned to existing collections; no single site could reveal this complex story. This article summarizes the major findings from this work and describes the pleasures and challenges of comparative analysis using existing collections. Collections-based research can also be used to inform fieldwork, so the legacy collections of tomorrow are in as good shape as possible. Indeed, collections-based work reveals the need for a critical dialogue concerning the methods, methodology, and ethics of both collections and field-based research.

Contributor Notes

JULIA A. KING is Aldom-Plansoen Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She has held fellowships with Dumbarton Oaks, the Virginia Historical Society, and Winterthur Museum and received four grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. From 2003 until 2011, King served as an Expert Member on the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, a federal agency that advises the president and Congress on national historic preservation policy. Her book, Archaeology, Narrative, and the Politics of the Past: The View from Southern Maryland, received a Book Award from the American Association of State and Local History in 2013.

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