A Counter-Map of Setauket, New York

Counter Map Home Page Crop

Christopher N. Matthews, Alexis Alemy, and Sophia Hudzik


During the Spring 2016 semester, Montclair State University Professor Christopher N. Matthews worked with undergraduate students Alexis Alemy and Sophia Hudzik together to create an online, interactive document that tells the story of the Native and African American community of Setauket, New York, a community that has been the focus of a historical and archaeological study since 2009.[1] Click the link above to view the full document.

This document illustrates some of the results of this study on the ArcGIS ‘Story Map’ platform created by ESRI: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/en/. As our project is driven to address a significant problem in the way local history is told in Setauket, we call our story map ‘A Counter-Map of Setauket, New York.’ In the following we explain a little more about the theory of counter mapping, describe the local context, and detail what was involved in creating our map. Story maps can be of vital use to archaeologists and other researchers by providing a low cost, relatively easy way to make scholarship available to the public in an accessible and exciting online format. 


What is a Counter-Map?

In Rethinking the Power of Maps, Dennis Wood explains that a counter-map is a reality presented as a “counter” to that which has already been constructed through supposedly “factual” mainstream stories and maps. He explains that we unconsciously rely on maps to provide a set of unquestioned facts about the spatial world. He reminds us, however, that even the highest quality maps are carefully constructed versions of reality that represent the interests and perspectives of those who are empowered to create maps.

Maps highlight and draw our attention to what mapmakers want us to see and thus push other aspects of our spatial realities to the background or erase them altogether, and, oftentimes, it is marginal people and communities that are left out. Counter-mapping is an ideal strategy for presenting alternative narratives of the past because it literally places communities that have been neglected back on the map. Moreover, because we see and experience so much of our world through the lens of maps, we think this is an incredibly effective way to transform the dominant historical narratives by revealing the physical presence of minority groups erased by traditional maps.



Why a Counter-Map of is Setauket?

A good example of the influence that maps have over the way we perceive reality can be found in Setauket, NY.  Here the Native and African American community fights to be recognized for their contribution to the historical record, despite the fact that Setauket cultivates an identity as a historic town dating to the colonial era. In fact, histories of Setauket are flush with mainstream narratives about the Revolutionary-era Culper Spy Ring (the story behind the AMC series Turn), the 19th century paintings of William Sidney Mount, and a  20th century historic preservation effort that has fostered a bucolic and increasingly white upper-middle class suburban village. In other words, white leaders in Setauket have emphasized a certain version of American history that privileges Revolutionary heroes, prominent white artists, and an elite heritage. Missing from this history are the lives and contributions of Setauket’s minority community, which predated the arrival of the first European colonists and continues through the present day.

While this may be an accidental omission by those with a preference for patriotic American stories, it has created dire consequences for the nonwhite community. Historically restricted to laboring and domestic work, people of color did not accumulate the wealth now required to afford to live in “historic” Setauket. As such, many have left their ancestral home and others are being forced out by extraordinarily high costs of living. Since the predominantly Native and African American neighborhood was not included in any of Setauket’s three historic districts, houses there were not protected by any preservation statutes. As Setauket gentrified in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, developers have bought out these homes, razed them, and built expensive, out-of scale structures in their place. Erased from historical memory and excluded from the historic preservation measures that protect other old sites in town, Setauket’s minority community shrinks with each passing year.

After a recognized historic house was demolished in the neighborhood in 2005, the minority community fought to establish the Bethel-Christian Avenue-Laurel Hill Historic District. This new designation recognized the long history and contributions of Native and African Americans to Setauket and offered a measure of protection to homes in their neighborhood. Seeking to strengthen the narrative of their past and to help to secure their future in the village, the community invited archaeologists and historians to dig deeper into the historical and material record. Results of this research are the focus of the counter-map we created.


How to make a counter-map?

A counter-map is a map with a purpose. The Counter-Map of Setauket, New York is structured as a ‘story map’, meaning that it tells the story of a specific community created through collaboration between scholars, students, and descendants. Our story map is a collection of the Native and African American community’s memories and memorabilia culminating in a visual and written experience designed to not only recount this story, but to place it physically on the map of Setauket.

We began with a list of sites and stories, collected through interviews, excavations, and historical documentation. We then decided which of these places would be the most effective story tellers in our map. Each site is a page in the story map. These pages describe the sites and explain their significance, reveal their locations, and include pertinent and compelling images. The historical data came from research done by community members, team researchers, and students of Montclair State and Hofstra Universities.  

Next, we uploaded a spreadsheet of coordinates and other information about the sites onto the ArcGIS Story Map site. The coordinates are then embedded in a Google Earth map. Each site showed up initially as a pin point, which we customized with our own designs. We chose to highlight, for example, whether a site had been excavated or whether a structure was still standing. These attributes enrich the story of both the preservation and neglect of Setauket’s Native and African American community heritage.

Story maps are especially effective because they include images, and we used a lot! We housed each picture on a Flikr account because the story map platform does not store the images, but imports them to the map with a url. Images illustrate our sites, stories, and the base map we composed on ArcGIS. To pull the reader further into the story we also used other methods for visuals including interactive platforms like Juxtapose and Google Street View.

Once complete the story map arranges lots of small pieces and stories in a coherent, interactive frame. Together they create a new and larger story that challenges the dominant historical narrative of Setauket and establishes the long presence of the Native and African American community across Setauket’s landscape.


[1] This effort is led by a collaborative team known as ‘A Long Time Coming’ (ALTC), who have been supported by descendant community members, researchers, and students associated with Higher Ground Intercultural and Heritage Association, Inc., Montclair State University, Hofstra University, and Education Works.  ALTC principals are Robert Lewis (Higher Ground), Chris Matthews (MSU), and Judith Burgess (Education Works).


Time Traveling in Delaware State Parks

About a year and a half ago, at the end of my first week as the new Cultural Preservation Specialist at Delaware State Parks,  my new boss said to me, “Er, John, did I tell you about Time Travelers?”  Warily, I replied, “No, Jim, what’s that?”  “It’s the volunteer program we used to have. You’ll need to revive it.” “Oh,” I said, “I think you neglected to mention that during the interview.”

TT Logo

I was initially daunted by the thought of having to run a volunteer program. I had been a volunteer myself early in my career and had worked with volunteers in some of my positions since then.  I had considerable respect for volunteers. However, I also had a certain disdain for the idea that archaeology was something my agency could think that they did not have to pay to have performed on its behalf. After all, Parks did not engage “volunteer” engineers to design new restrooms or parking lots. 

While I saw a role for the interested public, under professional supervision, to assist with some of the small scale compliance projects that my office engages in, from the outset I considered Time Travelers to be a program of enrichment, not of free labor.   Volunteer labor is never completely free.  Volunteers need training, supervision, and the knowledge that their contributions of time and energy are recognized and valued.  The volunteer should get as much out of the experience as the agency gets in labor value.


I eventually found some documentation for the Time Traveler program as it had existed from the mid 1990s to the early 2000s.  It was billed as a “hands-on heritage experience for the public.”  There was a hierarchy of Recruits, Apprentices, Regular Time Travelers, Warrant Officers, Mission Leaders, and Mission Specialists, and I thought, “Ack! They expect me to recreate Star Fleet!”

What I came up with was a two-pronged approach.  While Time Travelers would be reestablished as a volunteer program for hands-on archaeology and other cultural heritage-related activities, it would also be a branding effort for cultural heritage-themed programs and events in the parks. This would give cultural heritage programs a unified identity and connect those programs to hands-on, participatory opportunities. 

I was also lucky that the Archaeological Society of Delaware (ASD) had on-going archaeological research projects and a bevy of experienced volunteers that I could cross-recruit to be Time Traveler volunteers. In our first field projects ASD members made up the bulk of the teams, but not exclusively so. Experienced veterans guided those with little to no experience. Fieldwork entailed detailed briefings of goals, objectives, methods, and anticipated results of these small (four- to six-person) teams that I closely supervised. Field days are kept short and even mildly adverse weather postpones the work.

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I also developed a Basic Archaeology Class for Time Travelers. The class covers preservation ethics, key archaeological concepts and terms, and a review of the methods we use and why we use them.  Those who survive about three hours of  my lectures and who then demonstrate the ability to excavate a shovel test were awarded a newly designed embroidered Time Traveler logo patch and a certificate signed by both myself and the Director of State Parks.   The class has been offered twice now and the cadre of Time Travelers has grown to nearly 50 and includes high school students to retired seniors. 

While Time Travelers do some compliance-related work, the bulk of the activity is research-oriented and often non-destructive, such as a recent metal-detector survey of the late 19th-century Quarantine Station at Cape Henlopen State Park where “hits” were flagged, ground-truthing was limited, and nothing was collected.  The major result was confirmation that the facilities had not been burned or bull-dozed when abandoned, but apparently carefully salvaged since the debris signatures were very faint.

Time Traveler volunteers have so far assisted with over a dozen small projects and three larger on-going projects. 

As the program matures, opportunities for specialized training will be developed, such as historic and prehistoric artifact identification, artifact processing and laboratory practices, and geophysical remote sensing.  And I have so many ideas for research projects that the public will find exciting to be a part of.

New Thematic Issue of Historical Archaeology: Current Research into the Archaeology of American Landscapes


Landscapes surround and interact with us; they constrain and inspire our actions. Delving into the study of past landscapes provides one of the most exciting and dynamic avenues for archaeological research. The forthcoming thematic issue of Historical Archaeology, edited by Eric Proebsting and Jack Gary, includes a collection of 12 articles that are dedicated to exploring “Current Research into the Archaeology of American Landscapes.” These contributions share a common desire to uncover how people, places, and environments have related with each other over time. In doing so, the authors carefully examine the historical and archaeological materials that have been left behind to build on previous scholarship and blaze new trails as they contribute to topics of lasting significance for our discipline.

The geographic scope of the collection ranges across urban and rural areas of North America. Articles touch on important research themes, including the African diaspora, the colonial encounters between Native Americans and Europeans, and the ecological changes associated with the growth of the modern world. Other areas of research include the landscapes of industrial labor; conflict and confinement; agricultural plantations; ornamental grounds; and historical myth and memory.

Following the introductory essay, “Contributing to the Archaeology of American Landscapes,” by Eric Proebsting and Jack Gary, articles in the forthcoming issue of Historical Archaeology 50(1) include:

  • “What Towne Belong You To?” Landscape, Colonialism, and Mobility in the Potomac River Valley—Julia A. King, Mary Kate Mansius, and Scott M. Strickland
  • Dynamic Landscapes: The Emergence of Formal Spaces in Colonial Virginia—Barbara J. Heath
  • “As It Was Originally Laid Out by the General”: George Washington and His Upper Garden—Esther C. White
  • The Multiple Landscapes of Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest—Jack Gary and Eric Proebsting
  • Urbanization and Landscape Change in Early-Eighteenth-Century Boston: The Environmental Archaeology of Town Dock—David Landon, Heather Trigg, Allison Bain, and Edward Morin
  • Meeting at Market: The Intersection of African American Culture, Craft, and Economy and the Landscape of Charleston, South Carolina—J. W. Joseph
  • Plowing Prairies and Raising Stock: Historical Ecology and Community Life on the Cotton Frontier of Southwest Arkansas—Eric Proebsting
  • Intersecting Landscapes: A Palynological Study of Pueblo, Spanish, and Anglo-American Land Use in New Mexico—Kyle W. Edwards and Heather B. Trigg
  • The Archaeology of Underground Mining Landscapes—Paul J. White
  • Landscapes of Japanese American Internment—Stacey Lynn Camp
  • The Practice and Theory of New Heritage for Historical Archaeology—Edward González-Tennant and Diana González-Tennant


New Philadelphia as a Possible National Park Site

A Note from the SHA President: New Philadelphia as a Possible National Park Site

Historical archaeology has built part of its identity on the study of the disenfranchised, those who history didn’t bother to record. From early work by James Deetz at Parting Ways to the archaeology of Black Lucy’s Garden to Leland Ferguson’s recognition of the “Afro” in Colono-Indian Ware, archaeologists have led the effort to bring Africa and Africans into the lens of American history. That emphasis has resonated in cultural resource management, where consultants have realized that African sites are places that are little known and hence deserving of study, and as a result we have seen on a long lineage of African American CRM sites and studies ranging from Yaughan and Curiboo plantations to the African Burial Ground.

While we have done a good job of recognizing African American history and sites, we have been less successful in connecting those resources to their descendant communities, in serving and promoting public outreach. As a discipline engaged in digging the earth, we realize that all of our nation’s significant sites are not extant, were not built of brick and stone, and were not cherished by communities with the resources and legal position to protect and promote places of note. As a result, historic archaeological sites of the politically disconnected are too seldom celebrated and saved.

As archaeologists, we know these sites can speak since they have spoken to us. What we have forgotten is our responsibility to be storytellers and spokespersons.

Now we have a chance to have our voices heard. The National Park Service (NPS) is considering adding the New Philadelphia town as a unit and National Park.

New Philadelphia was formed by Frank McWorter, an African American who purchased his own freedom and that of at least fifteen family members, who moved to Illinois – a free state – where he was able to purchase land, and who then formed and registered the town of New Philadelphia in 1836. McWorter was the first African American to legally register a town in America; New Philadelphia was that town. It is an important place in American history, it is important to its community, and its story needs to be heard. It is a story that speaks to African America’s struggle with slavery and racism, as well as African Americans’ efforts to challenge social constructs by creating a racially diverse town.

New Philadelphia was discovered, uncovered, and explored by a team of historical archaeologists including Anna Agbe-Davies, Joy Beasley, Chris Fennell, Tom Gwaltney, Tommy Hailey, Bryan Haley, Michael Hargrave, Cheryl LaRoche, Terrance Martin, and Paul Shackel. It is a testament of the power of historical archaeology to connect descendant communities to a past that history forgot.

From now until June 11, the NPS is soliciting comments on the addition of New Philadelphia as a National Park unit. You can support the inclusion of New Philadelphia by commenting on the NPS site.

The NPS has already signified the historical significance of New Philadelphia by adding it the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, by designating it a National Historic Landmark in 2009, and by including it in the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program in 2013. However, only 6% of the NPS 410 units are directly associated with African American history. We have an opportunity to help right past wrongs, by including sites such as New Philadelphia among the places our nation celebrates and supports. Please join me in letting the NPS know that we believe New Philadelphia deserves to be added to the NPS as a park, which will protect its heritage and promote its legacy.

JW Joseph, PhD, RPA

Project Archaeology: Expanding Archaeology Education through the Leadership Academy

By Jeanne M. Moe, BLM Project Archaeology Lead


Launched in 1990, Project Archaeology is a growing national education program jointly sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Montana State University.  The program is distributed through a national network of 38 state and regional programs.  More than 15,000 educators have received Project Archaeology curricular materials and professional development. We estimate that these teachers reach almost 300,000 learners in both classroom and informal settings. The program grows each year, and in 2015 alone, we served almost 3,000 teachers.

Reading a building at the historic Tinsley House at the Museum of the Rockies

Experimental archaeology: making yucca fiber cordage










While we are proud of our past successes and steady annual growth, we would like to reach many more educators with archaeology education.  To extend our network, we began offering the annual Project Archaeology Leadership Academy in 2010 for classroom teachers.  A total of 94 new Project Archaeology Master Teachers have graduated from the Leadership Academy to date. These teachers are expected to offer at least one professional development event to their peers over the next four years after completing the Academy.  The 7th Annual Leadership Academy will be held June 27 – July 1, 2016 and we are currently accepting applications.

Our Master Teachers have broken the mold and gone above and beyond the call of duty to bring archaeology education to their peers and to learners of all ages.  Several Academy graduates have either revived existing Project Archaeology programs or started new statewide or regional programs.  For example, Sam Kirkley formed a partnership with Utah BLM and Southern Utah University to re-establish the Utah program.  Additionally, she formed a partnership with Girl Scouts of America to offer an archaeology merit badge. Dani Hoefer revived the Colorado program through a partnership with the Colorado Council of Professional Archaeologists, thus involving the archaeological profession in public education.  Mel Harvey, established a new state program in Arkansas.  Moriah Grooms-Garcia and Carol Ng He, both from the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, established an Illinois state program, helped us finish Project Archaeology: Investigating Nutrition, and have offered several workshops and two online courses to distribute the new guide. In partnership with the local BLM office, Paulette LeBlanc, a retired teacher in Safford, Arizona, has been offering workshops for local teachers every year since 2010.  Freda Miller and Ryan Boettcher, teachers in Cowley, Wyoming, offer an archaeology-based summer school for middle school students and arranged for the students to volunteer at an archaeological excavation in Montana.  Nathan McAlistair, winner of the Gilda Lehrman Preserve America History Teacher of the Year Award, offers Project Archaeology professional development in Kansas whenever his busy schedule allows it.

Summer Solstice 2011   PALA participants at Madison Buffalo Jump State Park

Summer Solstice 2011 PALA participants at Madison Buffalo Jump State Park


While we designed the Leadership Academy for classroom teachers, many archaeologists and museum educators have used the training and materials to expand their knowledge of archaeology education and to establish new Project Archaeology programs.  Interested in expanding your public archaeology credentials?  Apply for the Leadership Academy today.    

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