Delving further into Middletown
In this class, I often feel as though I’m learning at least as much of any of the students. Although I’ve worked on a number of historical archaeological projects, this is my first in North America, and the first where I’ve ever encountered such masses of pearlware. As ever, the wider historical archaeological community have been generous in providing ideas for references and often supplying articles to help with some of the specifics of these wares. Engaging with the Middletown artifacts has certainly led me to a new personal level of understanding in regard to some aspects of historical archaeological materials. It’s also prompted more fascination with American history, particularly after a wonderful visit to the Wesleyan archives at the Olin Library. We were happily surprised as a class to find that there were late 18th century advertisements from the Middlesex Gazette that related to Charles Magill.
Working with a class focused on lab analysis alone is also helping me to think more about pedagogy and material culture. I know that the students in the class are ranging between excitement and frustration in working with the Middletown sherds (often a combination of both within the same lab session), and it is interesting to work through this initial process of learning about artifacts for the first time with a group of students.
We’ve now been having class for three weeks and have started to make some inroads into understanding the excavations at the Magill site. This has been an exciting few classes of discovery for me too, as I learn more about the site and artifacts along with the class.
Our first foray into contextualizing the site was to head downtown and visit the Magill site itself. We know from records that the house was located at 49 Union Street, on what is now the corner of Union Street and Dekoven Drive. Today the site is under a parking lot, with nothing on the surface indicating that there was once the home of a prosperous merchant here, or of the site’s later history as working class rental housing.
Braving the cold, our class (as shown here roughly on the location of the Magill site) also looked at the river and discussed the former port activity in Middletown, and looked at some of the other locations of Middletown excavations. It is hard to imagine the eighteenth and early nineteenth century landscape of Middletown today. One that was most certainly very different from the cars rushing by on Route 9 and people pulling into parking lots to visit the Inn, the movie theater, or the drugstore.
Back in the warmth of the lab we have also just begun to look at the artifacts from the site. There is a bewildering array of ceramic types and it is very clear that the labeling and recognition process that took place in the 1970s doesn’t match up to the standards we expect in 2010. This has really brought home to me just how rapidly the discipline of historical archaeology and technology have both changed. When analysis of the artifacts was first taking place by Middletown students there were far fewer guides to artifact recognition available. Not only do we benefit from a wealth of historical archaeological publications to help us with identification, but we can also access online guides with a wide range of illustrations to help guide our research.
More posts will follow about our lab process, but I think it’s going to be a fun semester!