Current Projects

WAMPUM FACTORIES AND SETTLER-COLONIAL ENTANGLEMENTS

Campbell FactoryThis project, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, analyzes the archaeological remains of shell bead manufacturing centers in New Jersey between 1750 and 1900 CE. At these sites, Euro-Americans produced shell beads for export to Native American consumers on the Great Plains. They employed workers from diverse backgrounds including those with European, African, and Indigenous ancestry. How did interactions on the borders of an expanding American state impact industrialization in New Jersey? What factors led to the successes and failures of making and selling products to Indigenous consumers? Who benefited from settler-capitalist appropriation of a traditional Native craft? And how did distant Native consumers use Jersey-made beads to achieve their own social and political goals?  

The fieldwork compoent of the project involves a team of archaeologists from Harvard University and Montclair State University working in the Pascack Valley of northern New Jersey to investigate the locations of shell bead manufacturing in the 19th century. Originally the exclusive land of Ramapough Lunaape (Lenape) Indigenous peoples who spoke the Munsee dialect, the Pascack Valley was eventually also populated by Europeans and enslaved peoples of African descent. By the 19th century (and possibly earlier), many residents of Bergen County were employed in the business of making shell beads for Native American consumers. Shell beads such as wampum had been made by Indigenous Nations of the Northeast since before colonization (and into the present), but by the mid-18th century, Euro-Americans appropriated the traditional craft for mass production. The famous Campbell Wampum Factory exported different styles of beads such as wampum and hair pipes through the American fur trade after 1800. During this period, bead-makers of European descent are well documented in the historical record. However, this region continued to be home to Ramapough Lunaape residents in the 19th century. African Americans (both enslaved and free) also lived and labored in Park Ridge at the time. We are currently investigating the untold role these peoples likely played in the wampum industry. The Campbells sold their products to New York merchants who then traded with Native Americans everywhere from the Great Lakes, to the Southern Plains of Oklahoma, to the Northern Plains of North Dakota. Wampum had been used by Europeans as money in the cash-strapped colonies, but these beads went beyond “currency” or “fashion” for Native peoples. Wampum, today and in the past, is a powerful sacred object used for making peace and declaring treaty rights. Hair pipes are worn at pow wows, ceremonies, and other important events. These uses continue for Native people, including the Ramapough Lunaape Nation. By studying the remains of these bead factories, archaeologists hope to learn how beads were made, the effects of industrialization, and how Native Americans influenced production in Park Ridge.

The project is led by me (Eric Johnson, a PhD Candidate at Harvard University), and Dr. Chris Matthews, Professor of Anthropology at Montclair State. Funding is provided by a grant from the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. We have been working with various local stakeholders, including the Ramapough Lunaape Nation, the Park Ridge Borough Administration, the Pascack Historical Society, and the Bergen County Historical Society.

Campbell Factory Interior

CLASS AT THE MARGINS OF COLONIALISM:
ECONOMY AND IDENTITY IN ICELAND 1700-1900 CE

AsCafeI am developing a project that asks how the liberalization of European trade transformed existing inequalities in Iceland. Specifically, did the dissolution of a Danish trade monopoly underpin socioeconomic hierarchies or undermine the existing order after 1786? As a marginal environment at the physical periphery of Europe, Iceland brings the transformative properties of colonialism and capitalism into sharp relief. After 1400, mercantile intersections brought novel forms of material culture to Iceland, motivating the production of export commodities such as cod and wool within a manorial political economy. In 1786, the Danish Crown dissolved a trade monopoly which had limited exchange with Danish citizens at regulated ports. The stated goal of the monopoly’s dissolution was to bring relief to the struggling rural countryside. During this time, the construction of class identities implicate dichotomies of colonial discourse. With this in mind, an archaeological study of imported commodities – or lack thereof – speak to economic conditions as well as personal subjectivities. Did liberalization of trade augment preexisting inequalities, both as economic realities (such as poverty and inequality) and as social relations? Or could new strategies of accumulation and modes of negotiating class identity rupture previous structures? To answer these questions, I hope to track when, where, and which imported commodities are found in elite and non-elite household assemblages and compare this to variables of wealth and farm productivity in the Hegranes region in northern Iceland.