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Archaeology students showcase history of Providence

Students from two courses examine city through excavation, archival research

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, February 4, 2019

Archaeology students presented on the diverse history of Providence. Topics included, bone analysis, the history of Chinese food in the city, the excavation of the site of a demolished mansion and the history of drag culture in Providence.

Students from two archaeology courses — ARCH 0317: “Heritage in the Metropolis” and ARCH 1900: “The Archaeology of College Hill” — came together in Rhode Island Hall Friday to present the culmination of their semester-long collaboration to unearth hidden histories of Providence, both tangible and intangible.

The event, entitled “Providence’s Heritage: Above and Below Ground,” was hosted by the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World. It was a “hybrid between formal presentations and a heritage fair,” said Alex Marko GS, a doctoral student who teaches ARCH 1900. Each student explored an excavation site or research topic.

The presentations were part of a city-wide collaboration called “The Year of the City: The Providence Project,” which “brings together more than 50 public programs over the course of the year that explore the history, life and culture of Providence’s 25 neighborhoods through exhibitions, performances, walks, lectures and conferences,” according to the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities & Cultural Heritage website.

For his final project, Sam Wertheimer ’21 set out to create a geodatabase for an excavation site in order to pinpoint key areas of the dig more precisely. In his poster presentation, Wertheimer detailed how he compiled data from a comprehensive list of sources, including drone photos of the site and a 1908 atlas of the area from the Rhode Island Historical Society.

Maura Curry ’19 used various bones discovered at the site as the basis of her final project. She was able to take the excavated bones to Visiting Assistant Professor of Biomolecular Archaeology Katherine Brunson, who had pieces against which Curry could compare her own. The most notable discoveries included bones with metal in them, an astragalus bone and bones of sheep and rodents, Curry said.

Speaking to the larger impact of the course on students, Curry said that “a lot of the classes focused on archaeological techniques and being able to bring those into different contexts, making it easier for archaeological students to get jobs in the field.”

Rachel Gold ’19, a former Herald senior staff writer, took a more creative approach to her final project, which entailed documenting the excavation process throughout the semester by taking on-site footage and conducting interviews with fellow students. Gold chose the medium of film for her project because she wanted to convey that “archaeology is a five-senses type of activity,” she said. “We are feeling the mud and smelling and listening to each other and the sound of the sieving to recover artifacts,” she added. She wanted to capture the sensory and collaborative nature of archaeology in her work.

The locality of archaeology often goes unrecognized, and the field is often associated with ancient ruins in foreign countries, Gold said. “Everywhere we are leaving stuff in the ground, and there are so many stories to be learned from that,” Gold said. “I wanted to show how this site is sort of unexceptional — it’s just a house, but it’s really fun to see what has been left behind and piece together what we can learn from there.”

Quinton Huang ’19 said that students in the ARCH 0317 class were prompted to “find a research topic about an aspect of heritage in Providence (they) thought would be interesting and find a way to present it (creatively) that would get more people aware of that heritage” for their final project. In his project entitled “Chinese American ‘Food Heritage’: Restaurants and Grocery Stores in ‘Greater Providence,’” Huang explored the lesser-known history of Chinese food in Providence.

Huang “reconstructed the history of Providence’s Chinatown, which existed in some fashion between 1880 and 1970,” by interviewing four owners of Chinese restaurants or Chinese grocery stores. His research, which pulled from the geographic history of the Providence Chinese food scene as well as oral histories from business owners, culminated in an interactive digital exhibition.

Mikey Abela ’21 explored the history of drag culture in Providence and Rhode Island, largely drawing inspiration from the documentary “Paris is Burning.” Abela also touched upon the cultural influence of RuPaul’s Drag Race on drag culture, both locally and nationally.

Abela ended his presentation by proposing a re-creation of the marquee of the demolished Emery theater as a monument to drag in Providence, as well as creating an outdoor venue for local drag queens to use.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that ‘The Year of the City: The Providence Project” was a year-long series of events hosted by the University. In fact, the event is a city-wide collaboration with events taking place all over Providence. The Herald regrets the error.