I recently began conducting archival research into the second Wells Hall. We have been interested in learning details regarding the building’s construction and subsequent demolition, as well as piecing together what student life was like in the dormitory. During this summer’s CAP field school, we…
Author: Josh Burbank
For the past several months, CAP fellow Amy Michael and I have been preparing a presentation for the UMass Amherst Cultural Landscapes and Heritage Values conference about gendered landscapes on MSU’s campus. What is a gendered landscape, you ask? A landscape can be considered “gendered”…
As February is Black History Month, it seems fitting to write a post about the contributions of African Americans to the study of archaeology. John Wesley Gilbert is generally regarded as the first African American archaeologist. Gilbert was born into slavery in Georgia on July 6, 1864. After the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, he completed his primary and secondary education as well as earning work as a farm hand. In 1884 he was accepted to Paine College, where he studied for two years before transferring to Brown University in 1886 after the president of Paine offered to fund the transfer. Gilbert had a particular interest in ancient languages, and from 1890-1891 was the first African American to study at the American School of Classics in Athens, where his focus was Ancient Greek. Participating in archaeological excavations throughout Greece, he discovered Eretria’s gates and walls and ultimately helped develop a map of the site.
These experiences led Gilbert to pursue a Master’s degree in archaeology, where his thesis focused on the villages at Attica. In 1891, Gilbert completed his thesis and became the first African American to receive a Master’s from Brown. Upon graduating, Gilbert accepted a position at his former institution, Paine College, as a professor of Greek Language. Throughout the remainder of the 1800s Gilbert taught courses at Paine and eventually entered into ministry. In 1913, he was appointed president of Miles College in Birmingham, a position he held for one year. Throughout the early 20th century, Gilbert focused much of his time on improving the status of African Americans, especially regarding quality and access to education, criticizing the use of textbooks written by and for a white audience. Demanding a review of the education system, Gilbert sought reforms that would allow young black Americans to “write and to discover their own worthiness”, thereby carving a space from which they could actively contribute to the broader American tradition with their own perspectives.
In 2003 Dr. Anna Agbe-Davies, a historical archaeologist and professor at the University of North Carolina gave an interview with Archaeology Magazine regarding the participation of African Americans in archaeology. When asked why African Americans are not better represented in archaeology, Dr. Agbe-Davies explained that the answer is quite complex. Although it may make sense that talented members of marginalized groups such as racial minorities seek fields that provide better financial opportunities than academia, she cites that black recipients of graduate degrees do not generally pursue careers in high-paying jobs. However, she explains that many have contributed greatly to academic fields like political science and sociology. In Dr. Agbe-Davies’ opinion, the lack of black archaeologists is due more to the “perceived social impact of a field…”
In 2011 the Society of Black Archaeologists was created specifically to address the treatment of African material culture, and to raise interest in archaeology by encouraging those of African descent to enter the field. When asked why she became an archaeologist, Dr. Agbe-Davies explained that her work allows her to see how people in the past used artifacts, either with the purpose of living together or constructing barriers. Her last statement is particularly insightful, and something I believe most, if not all archaeologists consider on some level: “Those who can see the legacy of the past in the present are better equipped to challenge the status quo”.
This is how we keep the Dream alive.
Link for the Society of Black Archaeologists:
For additional biographical information about John Wesley Gilbert:
For Dr. Agbe-Davies’ interview with Archaeology:
Remodeling and construction at MSU Archives has meant that we have very limited access to archives for several months. Since my research plans have changed due to this limited access, I started thinking about other kinds of archaeology. A recent announcement from NASA got me…
For the past few weeks the Campus Archaeology fellows completed washing the artifacts recovered from a possible trash pit along the Red Cedar River near the Administration Building and have begun sorting and analyzing the assamblage. This was a particularly exciting find due to its…
With Veteran’s Day fast approaching and being a history buff (odd for an aspiring archaeologist, right?), I spent some free time this week reading about Michigan’s contributions to the Civil War. At the outset of the war Michigan joined the rest of the Union in answering President Lincoln’s call for volunteer soldiers. By the end of the war in 1865 the state had mustered over 50 volunteer regiments, many of which included MSU students. Of particular note, the seven students of the MAC class of 1861 received special exemptions to depart the University early to begin training as Army engineers, something the military was in dire need of at the time. At the end of their enlistment later in 1861 all but two mustered out of service. The two remaining soldiers, Henry D. Benham and Gilbert A. Dickey, reenlisted, were subsequently reassigned to different units, and eventually both received commissions as officers. Unfortunately, First Lieutenant (1LT) Benham died of disease in South Carolina in 1864 while Second Lieutenant (2LT) Dickey was killed in action on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
I was immediately fascinated by 2LT. Dickey’s experience at Gettysburg and decided to dig a little deeper and find which unit he served with, then piece together his actions during the battle. I discovered that 2LT Dickey had been assigned to the 24th Michigan Infantry Regiment of Volunteers, which was one of five infantry regiments (all from the Midwest) comprising the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, I Corps. The Iron Brigade… Although several military units on both sides carried the nickname “iron brigade” during the Civil War, the 1st Brigade was the most well known and deserving. Also known as the Black Hats for their distinctive headwear, the Iron Brigade is remembered today as one of the fiercest fighting units during the Civil War and, perhaps due in part to their ferocity on the battlefield, sustained one of the highest casualty rates of the entire war.
In the early hours of the battle on 1 July 1863, the first elements of I Corps under Major General John Reynolds began advancing into a wooded area known as McPherson’s Woods. General Reynolds personally oversaw the deployment of the Iron Brigade, initially placing the 24th Michigan on the extreme left flank of Union line. While encouraging the Iron Brigade to advance against the well-trained Confederates, he was shot and killed by a sharpshooter. General Reynolds’ last words to the 7th Wisconsin Volunteers before falling from his horse were: “Forward! For God’s sake forward!” Although the general’s death was a heavy blow to the Union, the Iron Brigade continued fighting late into the day, engaging in a successful flanking maneuver, which led to a temporary withdrawal by Confederate Major General Henry Heth’s division around midday. Success was short lived however, as the Confederate army counterattacked later in the day. The intense fighting that followed led to severe casualties on both sides, with the Iron Brigade suffering particularly heavily. After no more than a few hours of fighting, the Federal troops were forced to pull back in what became a bloody retreat east through the streets of Gettysburg.
2LT Dickey was killed relatively early in the engagement. 24th Michigan commanding officer, Colonel Henry Morrow reported that the regiment had maneuvered between the 7th Wisconsin Volunteers on the right and the 19th Indiana Volunteers on the left. After receiving severe enemy fire to his regiment’s left flank, Col. Morrow pulled back slightly to reposition the unit. During the maneuver the Confederates attacked in force, leading to severe casualties for the 24th Michigan, including 2LT Dickey, whom Col. Morrow described as a “young officer of great potential”. After the battle, Gilbert Dickey and thousands of his comrades were interred at the Gettysburg National Cemetery.
According to the 24th Michigan Infantry Regiment battlefield marker at Gettysburg, the regiment arrived on the battlefield with a total strength of 494 officers and enlisted men. When the regiment reached its position defending Culp’s Hill at the end of July 1, 363 had become casualties, for a total casualty rate of 73% within a period of roughly eight to ten hours.
Student enrollment at MAC remained low but steady for the duration of the war, with the highest enrollment reaching eighty-eight students in 1865. To contribute to the war effort, the college introduced formal military training and associated coursework related to military life to prepare potential student-soldiers for military service.
Foote, Shelby. 1963 The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian. Random House, New York.
DeLand, Colonel Charles V. 1903 DeLand’s History of Jackson County, Michigan. B.F. Bowen.
Greetings gentle readers. I have admittedly procrastinated the writing of this blog post. In my procrastination, I stumbled upon a buzzfeed.com post (link below) referencing a recent interview with actor Nick Offerman in which he was asked about his preplanned funeral arrangements. His brilliant response…