Current Projects

AN ARCHAEOLOGY OF SETTLER CAPITALISM: WAMPUM FACTORIES IN NEW JERSEY 

Campbell Factory Interior by Frank Gregory (1886)
Illustration of Campbell Wampum Factory Interior by Frank Gregory (1886)

 

This project, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, excavates a cottage industry of Euro-American-owned “wampum factories” in the 19th century. These sites manufactured shell beads for Indigenous consumers across North America from 1770 to 1900 CE, including wampum (the Northeastern Indigenous white-or-purple bead made from quahog shell) and “hair pipes” (an iconic style of shell-bead adornment on the Great Plains). By 1850, the largest of these factories achieved a near monopoly over industrialized production, introducing drilling machines, water-powered grinding wheels, and employing people of color as waged workers.

Engaging with the field of critical Indigenous studies, this project investigates white-owned wampum factories through the lens of settler colonialism and Indigenous sovereignty. In 19th century New Jersey, settlers conscripted shell beads into capitalist futures, whether through commodity-market circulations, industrial production, or dispossessions of “wampum diplomacy.” At the same time, however, Jersey-made beads are a medium through which Native people(s) of North America shaped sovereign futures, built networks and alliances, and refused settler modes of recognition. As the sites are located on the land of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation of New Jersey, my research is motivated by a desire to reckon with appropriations of wampum as a way of divesting from settler-capitalist futures, making Native nations visible, and underpinning tribal sovereignty in the region.

 

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 engaged with various local stakeholders, including representatives of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation, the Park Ridge Borough Administration, the Pascack Historical Society, and the Bergen County Historical Society.

Conch Shell from a Euro-American Wampum Workshop
Conch Shell from a Euro-American Wampum Workshop in the Pascack Valley. From excavations in 2019.

 

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

GrafarosORTHO
Remnants of 19th century merchant stores at Grafaros, Northern Iceland

 

The "Old Society" of Iceland is often assumed to be a marginal place: a cold island at the edge of Europe with scarce resources. I work as part of an interdisciplinary research team assessing landscapes, households, and artifacts to question the supposed “marginality” and “stasis” of Iceland's economy before 1900. Instead of taking assumptions of arctic poverty at face value, we outline dynamic (and unequal) relations of land, property, transatlantic trade, and colonial policies between the Viking Age and the 20th century. We are currently developing a new fieldwork project to critically examine the construction of marginality (in its geographic, historical, and ecological connotations). Arctic marginality provides an easy scapegoat for apparent impoverishment, but Icelandic tenant households have never been examined systematically alongside colonial policies, ecological changes, and property regimes. Test excavations and ecological assessments at tenant households help document presence of imported commodities and dynamics of agropastoralism, revealing the economic, ecological, and identity-based dimensions of class at the “margins” of colonialism.

This project emerges from my work with the Skagafjörður Church and Settlement Survey (SCASS) in partnership with the University of Massachusetts Boston.