Comparative Colonialism and Collections-Based Archaeological Research

Dig Less, Catalog More

in Volume 4 (2016): Issue 1 (Jul 2016): Current Approaches to Museum Archaeology. Guest edited by James L. Flexner and Kylie Message

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.