4/2/2019 1 Comment
In the field of archaeology less than 1 percent of professionals are people of African descent (Odewale et.al. 2018). I felt this immensely during my first conference experience at the Society for Historical Archaeology in January of 2010. As a Black queer woman in the field, I did not see myself reflected in the faces of my predominately White male colleagues. While the number of Black archaeologists has not risen over one percent, the interest in historical research pertaining to African Diaspora sites has been on the rise since Charles Fairbanks first broke ground at Kingsley Plantation in the late 1960s (Flewellen 2017). However, this interest has not come with a renewed desire by archaeologists in the intellectual production of African Diaspora folks, particularly how we theorize our past, present, and future.
In walks, Maria Franklin who in 2001 asked for an Black Feminist Inspired archaeology, a decade after Crenshaw’s call for intersectional scholarship (Franklin 2001). After being introduced to her work in early 2009, I later devouring Whitney Battle-Baptist work Black Feminist Archaeology in 2011 (Battle-Baptist 2011). I come from this legacy of Black women archeologists, who have fought to theoretically advance the field of archaeology. Within this rich legacy I’ve found that my epistemological scope centers material culture while demanding that it be placed in conversation with the words and experiences of Black women from the past (See Wheatley 1773; Truth 1850; Jacobs 1861; Copper 1892, 1925; Wells 1895, 1892a, 1892b; Terrell 1940; Guy-Sheftall 1995) and those who theorize our lives in the present (Crenshaw 1991, 1989; Hill-Collins, 1990, 1991, 2002, 2004; Gross 2006; McKittrick 2000, 2006; Hine 1989, 1994, 1998; Terborg-Penn 1998; Giddings 1984, 2008; Bettye Collier-Thomas 1998; and Deborah Gray White 1999). My epistemology stretches to include Black women narrative forms both fiction and non-fiction, into reimaginings of the archival record, oral history, and historical photographs; all of which provide a variety of ways to unearth and interpret the past lived experiences of African Diasporic peoples.
The largest challenge I’ve faced in my citation practice is validating my need for sources, particularly the use of Black women both within and outside of the ivory tower. I’m constantly having to answer at conferences, in reviewers’ comments, at lectures, how my work is in fact archaeological. A prime example of this was while I was at a job talk I was asked by a faculty member “if I dug.” Beyond the fact that my talk outlined how I co-direct an award winning archaeology field school in the Caribbean, the question is literally akin to asking a historian if they ever have been in the archives. Another example of this, are the very real concerns I have regarding whether my first book project is “archaeological enough” for archaeology audiences and how that might affect my tenure. All of these concerns are real and reflect the ways our citation practices can have real impacts on our jobs security. Yet it is work that needs to be done as a practice is validating not only my expertise but the expertise of my intellectual foremothers.
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2017 Locating Marginalized Historical Narratives at Kingsley Plantation. Historical Archaeology, 51(1), 71-87.
2001 A Black feminist-inspired archaeology?. Journal of Social Archaeology, 1(1), 108-125
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Dr. Ayana Omilade Flewellen is a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California Berkeley and a 2019 Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies Fellow working with the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery. Her research and teaching interests are shaped by and speak to Black Feminist Theory, historical archaeology, public and community-engaged archaeology, processes of identity formations, and representations of slavery.The bulk of her research interests span geographically across the archaeology of the African Diaspora. She has conducted archaeological excavations and oral historical research related to slavery and freedom in the U.S. South as well as the Caribbean. Her current book project, tentatively titled A Black Feminist Archaeology of Adornment, builds off her dissertation research that examined sartorial practices of self-making among African American tenant, sharecropping and landowning farmers in post-emancipated Texas.
Dr. Flewellen is also the co-founder of Society of Black Archaeologists, a non-profit organization launched in 2011 to create a strong network of archaeologists that advocate for proper treatment of African and African diaspora material culture, promote more people of African descent to enter the field of archaeology, ensure community collaborative research, and highlight the past and present achievements and contributions people of African descent have made to the field of archaeology.Flewellen is currently the Co-PI of the Estate Little Princess Archaeology Project, an award-winning collaborative community engaged archaeological project on St. Croix, USVI. The Estate Little Princess Archaeology Project is in collaboration with The Slave Wrecks Project (SWP) - a global change program comprised of an international network of institutions and individual associates that investigate the global history and enduring legacies of the African Slave Trade, administered by George Washington University and the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture – as well as the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), and Diving with a Purpose (DWP), an underwater archaeology advocacy group. The Estate Little Princess Archaeology Project is also part of a larger University of California Historically Black College and University Grant – providing archaeological field school training to students attending HBCUs around the country.