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Campus Conversations in Standish: Findings of the Albany Underground Railroad Archaeology Project

Minerva - UAlbany Libraries


March 13, 2019

Contacts: Trudi E. Jacobson, Head, Information Literacy Department,, (518) 442-3581; Rebecca Mugridge, Dean of University Libraries,, (518) 442-3568.

University Libraries - University At Albany

Dr. Marilyn Masson and Dr. Michael Lucas:
Findings of the Albany Underground Railroad Archaeology Project

Marilyn Masson and Michael Lucas

Dr. Marilyn Masson, Professor of Anthropology at the University at Albany, and Dr. Michael Lucas, Curator for Historical Archaeology at the New York State Museum, will lead the second “Campus Conversations in Standish” of the 2019 spring semester with a presentation titled “Researching African American Lifeways in Nineteenth Century Albany: Findings of the Underground Railroad Archaeology Project 2017-2018.”

Dr. Masson was originally to have delivered the presentation alone on January 30, 2019; the talk had to be cancelled due to inclement weather. It has been rescheduled to Wednesday, March 13, 2019, 12:35-1:30 p.m. in the Science Library's Patricia and J. Spencer Standish Board Room. All are welcome. Complimentary refreshments will be provided.

Under the auspices of the UAlbany Archaeology Field School program, undergraduate students, faculty, and collaborators investigated two downtown historical archaeological sites in Albany in 2017 and 2018, with the goal of reconstructing lifeways of African Americans in our community in two very different contexts. The first context represented the summer living quarters and kitchen workspace of enslaved persons at the Ten Broeck Mansion prior to 1820. The second context was that of the Stephen and Harriett Myers residence, home to leaders of Albany's abolitionist movement in the mid-1800s. This research unearthed features such as walls, concentrated trash deposits, and a cistern; ongoing laboratory analysis now reveals similarities and differences in subsistence, consumption patterns, wealth, and items of specific importance to African American social identity. This talk summarizes the highlights of this recent collaborative project, much aided by the ongoing commitments of undergraduate researchers and two local stakeholder agencies who support this work, including the Albany County Historical Society (Ten Broeck Mansion) and the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region (Stephen and Harriett Myers residence). This research has an important public outreach component and contributes more broadly to understanding our community's history

Dr. Masson's research focuses on the archaeology of Mesoamerica, specifically urban life and social transformations at the last Maya area Pre-Columbian political capital of Mayapán, Yucatan, Mexico. She is the author of In the Realm of Nachan Kan: Postclassic Maya Archaeology at Laguna de On, Belize (2000) and Kukulcan's Realm: Urban Life at Ancient Mayapán (with Carlos Peraza Lope, 2014). She has edited four additional books, two of which are in press. Dr. Masson also currently serves as the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Research in the Office of the Vice Provost and Dean for Undergraduate Education. In 2017 and 2018, she started a new project in historical downtown Albany, titled the “Underground Railroad Archaeology Project” that investigates lifeways of African Americans in the early and mid-nineteenth centuries at two downtown sites. The Albany project was conducted with the help of UAlbany archaeology field school students and is co-directed with Dr. Michael Lucas of the New York State Museum and Matthew Kirk, a doctoral student at UAlbany.

Dr. Michael Lucas is the Curator for Historical Archaeology at the New York State Museum. His research focuses on the history and archaeology of the early colonies in North America from the last quarter of the seventeenth century to the American Revolution. Dr. Lucas is particularly interested in the exploitation of labor during the eighteenth century. New York has many archaeological sites where individuals were employed through indentured servitude, slavery, and wage labor. Such contexts include mills, farms, city docks, and many other settings of production and distribution. Studying the material objects recovered, the arrangement of buildings, and other landscape features at these sites reveals how laboring families constructed their lives. Museum collections and archaeological field data provide rich information regarding the material realities of life on the economic margins of society. This research also contributes to understanding the consequences of slavery and other exploitative labor practices in colonial New York during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Launched by the University Libraries in spring 2015 and held two to three times per semester, “Campus Conversations in Standish” highlight UAlbany faculty research and expertise and connect members of the UAlbany community and beyond in an exchange of ideas and perspectives. “Campus Conversations in Standish” are free and open to the public and are held on selected Wednesdays, 12:35-1:30 p.m. in the Patricia and J. Spencer Standish Board Room on the third level of the Science Library.

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