Consumer Agency beyond Identity: Indigenous Demand and Euro-American Wampum Production between New Jersey and the Plains

Citation:

Eric D. Johnson. 4/12/2019. “Consumer Agency beyond Identity: Indigenous Demand and Euro-American Wampum Production between New Jersey and the Plains.” In Society for American Archaeology 84th Annual Meeting. Albuquerque, NM.

Abstract:

The popular “object-biography” approach to commodities generally focuses on hegemonic material culture in the hands of unintended consumers, such as the analysis of “European” goods found in “Native” contexts. What this fails to capture, however, is a kind of consumer agency that extends beyond the politics of identity. In other words, what are the structural effects of colonial consumption on trajectories of capitalist production? This study compares assemblages from two Euro-American shell bead production sites in northern New Jersey: Stoltz Farm (1750-1830), a small-scale, Dutch household, and the Campbell Wampum Factory (1850-1900), famous for its mass production facilitated by "wampum drilling machines." Shell bead styles produced at these sites—including wampum, hair pipes, and gorgets—were traded with indigenous consumers from the Great Lakes to the northern and southern Plains. Both sites were excavated in the early 20th century, but have not yet been analyzed archaeologically. This project reconstructs sequences of production, estimates efficiencies, tracks the number and quality of bead styles, and measures degrees of standardization between sites. Preliminary conclusions suggest that the demands of distant indigenous actors structured the local trajectory of capitalism in northern New Jersey in ways that complicate the traditional hallmarks of an “industrial heartland.”