New Thematic Issue of Historical Archaeology: “Historical Archaeology in the Next Decades”

Chris Matthews

With the upcoming 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Society for Historical Archaeology, you can expect a lot of memory work and commemorations at the Ft. Worth conference and for the rest of 2017. The latest thematic issue of Historical Archaeology was put together with this in mind. The issue, however, is looking ahead rather than behind. To put the issue together, I asked authors to take this coming of age moment to consider where they think the field is heading in the next few decades. As you will see their responses and discussions suggest we are in store for an array of productive and interesting directions.

As the papers came together, I saw two major themes that stood out. One is ‘motion and networks’. With articles that consider frontiers, GIS, global connections, and the need to approach our subjects through more complicated frames, most authors call for an appreciation for how people in the recent past have been on the move and tied into far-reaching networks. The upshot here is that historical archaeologists will need to be more aware of how the sites, material culture, and people we study are much less stable and fixed in place than we have typically considered.

The second theme of the paper is the relationship between historical archaeology and time. Just as space will likely be seen as the paths that people move to and through, many authors predict that time will also become a more complicated and nuanced aspect of research in historical archaeology. For one, archaeologists will have to consider more the questions of modernity and being modern at the global scale. The idea of multiple, competing modernities challenges some of the linear frameworks and settings such as capitalism and colonialism that many in the field examine. Similarly, it is predicted that historical archaeology will become more articulated with the emergent field of contemporary archaeology, whose purpose, in part, is to unsettle the normative temporalities associated with archaeology.

“Historical Archaeology in Next Decades” should be arriving in your mailbox soon. A full list of the articles is copied below.

  • Historical Archaeology in the Next Decades: An Introduction, Christopher N. Matthews
  • Marks from the Past, Signs of the Future—the Dikenga of Historical Archaeology, W. Joseph
  • Recent Directions and Future Developments in Geographic Information Systems for Historical Archaeology, Edward González-Tennant
  • Fifty Years On: History’s Handmaiden? A Plea for Capital H History, Lynette Russell
  • Categories in Motion: Emerging Perspectives in the Archaeology of Postcolumbian Indigenous Communities, Kurt A. Jordan
  • Capitalism in Motion, LouAnnWurst and Stephen A. Mrozowski
  • Historical Archaeology Outlook: A Latin American Perspective, Pedro Paulo A. Funari and Lúcio Menezes Ferreira
  • Transatlantic Currents: Exploring the Past, Present, and Future of Global Historical Archaeology, Audrey Horning
  • Horizons beyond the Perimeter Wall: Relational Materiality, Institutional Confinement, and the Archaeology of Being Global, Eleanor Conlin Casella
  • Archaeology and the Time of Modernity, Alfredo González-Ruibal
  • Archaeologies of Present and Emergent Futures, Rodney Harrison


Image: Convict ‘love token,’ modified copper penny, obverse and reverse faces. Powerhouse Museum of Sydney (photographs by Eleanor Casella, October 2005).

SHA and Springer

by Joe Joseph & Chris Matthews

As you already know, the SHA has entered an agreement with Springer to publish Historical Archaeology. This agreement builds on our already existing partnership with Springer, who co-publish two of the society’s book series: “When the Land Meets the Sea” and “Springer Briefs in Underwater Archaeology.” We, as the SHA President and Journal Editor, are extremely excited about this new relationship, as are the other SHA Editors and Board. Springer provides us with a number of resources and technologies that will advance Historical Archaeology as a leading publication in the field, as well as greater exposure and marketing which will increase and diversify the SHA’s membership.

Our agreement with Springer provides the SHA with following advantages:

1. Expanded journal content

The print journal will now include Technical Briefs articles and Book Reviews in addition to original articles, awards essays and memorials.

2. Online submission and review system

Springer’s Editorial Manger provides an on-line system for paper submittal, review, and publication portals. This will streamline and expedite the editorial process, a benefit to the editorial staff and authors alike.

3. Global marketing

Springer is a global publisher of scientific research with offices and outreach worldwide. They are well versed in promoting their publications to diverse communities, many of whom will be new to Historical Archaeology and the SHA. Springer will specifically market Historical Archaeology through the Springer website and at all of the archaeological, anthropological and historical conferences where they exhibit. Springer also provides secure electronic subscriptions to institutions and individuals, which has the potential of further reach for the journal, especially to international universities.

4. Revenue to SHA

The agreement includes annual payments to SHA to offset editorial costs as well as loss of revenue from institutional membership dues, who will now subscribe through Springer. Journal subscriptions will also be tied to SHA membership, increasing the member base of the society. In all, the agreement shifts the costs to the SHA of the producing the journal from being a net loss to a net gain.

5. Citations

Springer will assign each article in the HA catalog a Digital Object Identifier (DOI), which allow electronic documents such as our journal articles to be tracked and identified in other sources. Moreover, as a press that has an extremely high level of visibility, Springer provides greater exposure to our author’s work and enhance our journal’s place as one of the premier publications in the field.

6. “Online First” publications

Springer provides a program called “Online First” that electronically publishes articles as they are accepted and composed, speeding up the on-line publication of articles, which will no longer need to wait until the full journal issue is ready for press to be published.

7. Back Catalog Access

Springer will provide access to the full back catalog of journals for members, enhancing benefits to current and new members, while removing access to back issues for non-members, meaning that access to the journal will only be available to members as of 2017 as well as through JSTOR.

The SHA Subcommittee did an excellent job in negotiating the Springer contract, which also offers the SHA slight financial advantages over our in-house publication effort, so we feel that the SHA and its members are getting the best of all worlds, and we encourage you to join us in welcoming Springer as a partner to the SHA.

To get started you can visit the SHA page on Springer’s website: This page will be updated regularly as new content for the journal is produced, including the option to submit articles for publication, which goes “live” on Oct 31, 2016!

What’s the Most Interesting Thing You Found? Thinking about How Archaeologists Communicate with the Public

by M. Jay Stottman

It is the oldest and most basic form of public archaeology, but we tend to pay little attention to how archaeologists speak to the public.   Whether it is giving a public presentation or telling someone about your dig, talking to the public is not something that we are trained for.  It is something that each archaeologist typically learns through experience and lots of trial and error.  When we do seek out training in the art of public speaking, we might take a workshop with professional interpreters.  While the techniques we learn help us more effectively communicate our message, we don’t often connect with the public.  Is it good enough to just tell people what we are doing, how we do it, and how important that it is?  Is there more than just answering the questions people ask and delivering our research and ethics messages?  We all have our spiel that we give and canned responses prepared for the inevitable questions we are asked.  Can we go beyond that and use them as opportunities to learn about our publics and as entry points to connect with them? 

            In order to connect with the public we have to do more than improve our strategies and techniques, we have to also think about our approach.  We have to move beyond just being information providers to being facilitators of conversations.  The key is to find points of entry or intersections in the information we present with the questions the public asks.   Learning what the public wants to know about and what they are interested in should help dictate what to talk about and how far the conversation can go.  Some may call them teachable moments, I call them teaching opportunities; either way, I am looking to make the people I talk to more invested in our interaction.  For example, I used a question in response to my spiel on outbuildings to learn that someone is interested in what happened to the buildings.  The conversation then can go from talking about how we know about the outbuildings to how changes in transportation changed the outbuilding landscape and how it affects change in the present.  Questions like, “what is the most important or valuable artifact you have found?” can lead to a conversation about how enslaved African Americans coped with slavery and actively created a community in the oppressive environment of slavery.  We can then inform and challenge our publics to connect such information to present day issues of social justice if we are seeking opportunities to do so. 

            We have to go beyond talking to the public and start communicating with the public in order to have a more meaningful interaction with them.  Rather than beating them over the head with our rhetoric, we should be facilitating conversations and connections with the public.  We have to think about our interactions with the public as a two-way street and seek those opportunities to share knowledge with each other.  Being a good communicator means we have to be able to listen as well as talk.  Certainly many of us have learned to do this and learned it the hard way, but communication goes beyond technique and strategies. It starts with how we conceptualize our relationship with the public.  Are we willing to give up some of our control as the expert to engage in more meaningful public interactions or should we even have to?



Lori talking with kids

Lori Stahlgren discusses ideas about an artifact with kids during a field trip at Riverside, The Farnsley-Moremen Landing.

Hot Summer Days: SHA Visits the Hill


SHA Member Sarah Miller visits Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL)


On June 24 and 25, the Society for Historical Archaeology visited several members of Congress and their staffers to urge them to support reauthorization of the Historic Preservation Fund. President Joe Joseph, President-Elect Mark Warner, and member Sarah Miller made approximately 10 visits to the House and Senate. They also met with the Bureau of Land Management to discuss new planning guidance, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the National Park Service to discuss SHA’s development of an initiative to identify, preserve, and protect historic African-American burial grounds. These visits are critical to developing relationships and advancing SHA’s priorities in Washington.

Urban Public Archaeology, or, What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Million Visitors

By Sarah Johnson


Archaeology in a densely populated urban environment is an entirely different animal from doing some quiet shovel test pits in the woods. Throw in the element of working along a main tourist thoroughfare that attracts millions of visitors each year, and you’ve got yourself a real logistical challenge. How do we as archaeologists engage that volume of visitors while maintaining a safe, well-paced work environment? What follows are some of my thoughts on these issues, based on my experience on urban archaeology projects along Boston’s Freedom Trail, at the home of Malcolm X in Roxbury, Massachusetts, and on Burial Hill in Plymouth.

The first and most important rule of urban public archaeology, as with Boy Scouts, is to be prepared. Really think through your strategy beforehand and keep in mind that there will be challenges that you might not be used to facing.

  • Safety: If you are in a setting where visitors will be able to walk right up to your excavation units, how will you keep them (and your crew) safe? Some sort of barrier may be in order, but also keep in mind that anything that keeps people from being able to see what you’re doing will be a turn-off. In my experience, a row of traffic cones usually does the job. Also consider how you’ll protect the site at night. Sand bags filled with backdirt are a great asset to have – you can use them to hold down the plywood or whatever else you use to cover your units, and you can also use them to line the bottom of your units to deter anyone who manages to get your covering off.
  • Interpretation: If your crew is large enough, it helps to have people whose job it is to just interpret the site for visitors. This allows excavation to continue more or less unimpeded while also insuring that the public is engaged. In any crew, there will likely be a few people who really take to this role, saving those who are less outgoing from anything they find unpleasant. At the start of the project, lay out some talking points that you want the interpreters to be sure to hit and then let people find their own voice. You will find that you get the same few questions over and over again (“Have you found anything yet?” “What’s the coolest thing you’ve found so far?” “Found any gold?”), so it won’t be long before you start to hit your stride.  If possible, set up your screens in a space where the public can watch. That way, they can see the entirety of the fieldwork process at once. You can even take it one step further by setting up a public lab space. This is obviously not feasible for many projects, but it can be a really great way to highlight the scientific nature of archaeology and give visitors a sense of the true scope of our work, not just the digging. For the project I worked on in Plymouth, we set up a lab in the visitors’ center at Plimoth Plantation where members of the crew could wash and sort artifacts from the field and talk with visitors. Even just a small washing station on site can go a long way to expanding people’s ideas of what archaeology is.
  • Follow-up: How will you continue to engage your visitors after they leave the site? The turnaround on urban public digs can be very fast, as people stop by for a few minutes as part of a tour or while they’re on the way to their next planned stop. It’s important to make a connection in the few moments you have and give them a way to continue to follow your work. Signage is a big part of this, so you should create some bright, eye-catching signs to place around the site that give a brief idea of who you are and what you are doing. That way, even if the visitor doesn’t get a chance to talk with anyone, they still have an idea of what they’re looking at. Going back to Joe Bagley’s blog post earlier this month, social media is a great way to engage people beyond the site itself. Prominently display your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/etc. links on your signs, and include any hashtags that you’ve come up with for your project. The hashtag encourages people to not only follow along but also post about their experiences at the site in a way that others can find. Make sure that you post about your progress often so that there is some encouragement to keep following.

Above all, be flexible and maintain a sense of humor. Public archaeology on this scale can be overwhelming and exhausting, but it is also incredibly rewarding. You have the opportunity to bring your work to literally millions of people, and with just a little effort and planning on your part, you can leave them with an unforgettable experience. What message do you want to tell the world about archaeology? This is your chance to share it. Good luck and have fun!

Why I care about 50 for 50 (the current SHA fundraising initiative) and why you should too.

By Linda Stone, SHA Board Liaison to the Development Committee

SHA is asking at least 50% of our regular members (students and others are welcome to join if they can) to donate at least $50 in celebration of the Society’s 50th anniversary this year. The funds raised will be divided between two programs that are not funded as part of the regular budget. These are the Diversity Initiative and the Student Endowment. 

The Diversity Initiative is an exciting new set of endeavors to be more inclusive and proactive around a myriad of issues related to diversity. The efforts will be focused on specific activities and the times we live in. The Diversity Initiative provides access to our conferences via the Harriet Tubman Student Travel Award. Additionally, the Initiative has begun an effort to ensure identification and preservation of abandoned cemetery sites, prompted by several high profile African American historic cemetery excavations in the recent past.

One other current aspect of the Diversity Initiative is the anti-racism workshops that have been offered at the last two annual conferences. The committee has successfully raised funds to cover the costs of the past workshops which have used a paid outside facilitator. But wouldn’t it be better if the SHA could fund future workshops from an endowed pool of money and not require the committee to take on the additional task of fund raising on an annual basis? I think so. One could argue that imposing that additional requirement on the committee organizing the workshops is in of itself is an exertion of power over them and one of the institutional expressions of racism that the workshops strive to open our eyes to. I attended the workshop at Washington, DC conference last January and found it had a lasting impact. In the months since, when I observe institutional racism, as we all do, I try to imagine concrete steps that could be taken to overcome it. In cases where I have the opportunity to make suggestions, I feel it’s my responsibility to do so. Now, did I need the SHA anti-racism workshop be able to do these things? Perhaps not, but I certainly feel the workshop created a level of comfort I didn’t always have with the language and dialogues that are necessary to break down racism’s barriers.

The Student Endowment Fund was created in 2007 to fund the Ed and Judy Jelks Student Travel Award, the Quebec City Award/Bourse de Québec, the Dissertation Prize, and the Student Paper Prize. To date, the Endowment has approximately $33,000. The 50 for 50 campaign will help the Endowment to maintain its viability and ensure these awards and prizes will be available in the years to come to help our next generation of archaeologists advance their careers.

I was compelled to write this blog to encourage you to think about what a difference one small $50 donation can make if half of our close to 1000 regular members contributed. It would certainly help to create a pool of money that can be used to address diversity issues, increase diversity within our Society and perpetuate our profession via the Student Endowment Fund. Our strength is in the numbers. Finally, in addition to the satisfaction you’ll have knowing that you participated in 50 for 50, SHA is creating a commemorative pin for donors that can proudly be worn at the Fort Worth conference, or anytime you want to express your participation in this important fund raising effort.

Please click here or go to to contribute.

Georgia Exempts State-Funded Road Projects from GEPA

by Eden Burgess

A bill that exempts Georgia Department of Transportation projects that cost up to $100 million from the Georgia Environmental Policy Act (GEPA), has been signed into law, despite strong opposition from archaeologists and tribal interests. Governor Nathan Deal signed the bill into law on April 26; it goes into effect on July 1, 2016 (SB 346; Act 339). Georgia’s archaeological community, led by the Georgia Council of Professional Archaeologists and the Society for Georgia Archaeology, however, were successful in amending the bill to remove cultural resources from the exemption.

In 2015, the Georgia Legislature passed a 10-year, $10 billion transportation funding bill. This new bill allows the state to fund major construction initiatives strictly with state funding, removing the need for federal support. State funded projects must comply with GEPA, which insures that state agencies take environmental effects into account during government undertakings. In order to lessen the environmental review on state funded projects, the Legislature passed SB347 exempting projects costing less than $100 million from the GEPA process. The Georgia archaeological community’s ability to amend the final bill to exclude cultural resources from the GEPA exemption is a great accomplishment that the SHA supported. But, the lessening of state environmental review is a concern, as is the movement to shift new transportation construction to state funding while using federal funds for maintenance and other non-ground disturbing work.

SHA is concerned that the Georgia bill may be the start of a national trend. Several states have increased transportation funding by raising local gas taxes and registration fees, and through other funding mechanisms. Consequently, states may be able to advance stalled transportation projects by using state-only funds, thus avoiding compliance with federal requirements in most cases. Instead, the legal protections for historic and archaeological sites affected by state-funded projects will be limited to state laws, such as Georgia’s GEPA and state versions of the National Historic Preservation Act. As the Georgia situation demonstrates, legislators that have passed gas tax and fee increases are anxious to see construction underway, and are willing to bypass state-level environmental and historic preservation reviews to make that happen.

The SHA Governmental Affairs Committee will be monitoring states considering the passage of laws similar to Georgia’s, and urges SHA members to notify Terry Klein or Marion Werkheiser with any information on these types of efforts in their states.

Your First Drone: Basic Considerations and Best Practices for Drone Use in Public Outreach

Kevin Gidusko, Florida Public Archaeology Network

Boas 1

Image 1 The FPAN drone, Boas I, gets ready for flight. Photo credit: Kevin Gidusko

At some point in the near future you or someone you know is going to want to get a drone and use it somehow, someway in whatever research or outreach you are conducting. Perhaps this thought has already crossed your mind. For the most part I think this is an amazing idea, but not without its own set of serious issues to consider first. Drones, more properly referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are rapidly changing the ways in which we collect data at archaeological sites, and offer us fantastic new ways to visualize that data. Those visualizations, those flashy aerials and three-dimensional models that drones help us to produce, are what inevitably intrigues the public; not to mention the hint of science fiction futurism that still clings to drones. Those of us working in public outreach are keen to take advantage of these shifts in public interest and so it is inevitable that some of us will want to procure a drone to use in outreach efforts. However, drones have also been a hot-button issue these last several years. Issues of privacy and public safety intermittently make the global media circuit, often doing a better job of spreading how best not to use a drone rather than discussing how they are being put to use by a bevy of well-meaning enthusiasts and scientists. It is imperative we demonstrate best practices to the public so that we can assist in bolstering the positive public image of these powerful tools. The first, best thing you can do when using a drone is to stay informed about the topic!

It should be noted that this post has a definite shelf-life. I give it a year tops. The drone industry and laws surrounding drone use in the U.S. and abroad are constantly changing as the technology advances and agencies charged with regulating their use play catch-up. Please be aware that any discussion below of applicable laws or rules to consider when using a drone are only good for the time being. These laws can, and probably will, change often in the next few years. This post is designed to lay out the bare-bones basic overview of purchasing a drone and using it safely around the public. I will cover a few key points, but this should not be considered an exhaustive discussion of utilizing drones in public outreach or research. The goal for this post is to create a quick, easy outline of important issues, resources, and best practices for drone use.

Who Governs the Skies?

One of the first things to consider before purchasing or using a drone is to find out who manages the airspace in your country. Many of these agencies are actively attempting to engage drone users, so finding them online should not be a problem. These are the best places to find out what kind of regulations are in place for drone use. In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) manages the nation’s airspace. For drone use in the U.S. some things to remember are to:

  • Register a drone with the FAA and mark it with the registration number.
  • Keep drones below 400 feet and within your line of site.
  • Have a basic knowledge of where drones can and cannot be used. For example, the National Park System airspace, airports, sporting events, and most airspace around military installations are no drone zones.

Every country has their own set of regulations, always be sure to find out what those may be before attempting to fly a drone. Always remember that in the U.S. drones should not be flown within 5 miles of an airport without first contacting the control tower. Many of the drones currently on the market are nearly impossible to spot by airplanes descending for a landing; it is the responsibility of the drone operator to ensure that no mishaps occur.

Boas Logo

Image 2 Registration ID for the Boas I. Design Credit: Nicole Grinnan

What Kind of Drone?

The drone industry has an ever-increasing selection of multi-purpose or task-specific drones to choose from. How best to find the right one for you? For the most part two major considerations come into play when choosing a drone: Cost and purpose. Both of these should be carefully weighed before purchasing a drone and all of the assorted equipment inevitably needed to keep it running.

Cost: Drones range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. Naturally, cost may be the largest constraint you encounter; you only have so much to spend. More expensive drones tend to be larger, have better camera and video equipment, and can remain airborne longer. Remember also that the cost of the drone itself is only one aspect of the total cost. Extra batteries, carrying cases, replacement rotors, and standard repairs to the drone potentially add hundreds of dollars to the cost. Deciding how much to spend on a drone also has a great deal to do with its intended purpose.

Purpose: Generally speaking, more expensive drones allow for higher quality data collection and offer greater variation in use. Many less expensive drones still have great cameras, though they are not usually able to be switched out. If your goal is to use a drone to do demonstrations, take a few neat pics, and possibly collect data for 3D modeling, then one of the lower end drones on the market now (< $1000) should definitely meet your needs. If a primary purpose of the drone to be purchased is research, investing in better equipment pays off exponentially. This is especially true when you factor in the increased airtime these drones offer and the ability to, for example, switch out cameras, attach thermal imaging cameras, attach LiDAR sensors, etc.

There are several types of drones on the market that are increasingly being manufactured to suit specific needs. There is no point in purchasing a drone that is rigged for cinematography or large-scale mapping, for example, when what is needed is a small demonstration drone to be used intermittently. Think about how a drone will be used before purchasing it and decide if all the features you may want are really necessary.

How to Ensure Safety?

Drones, like many other tools we regularly use, can be dangerous. The rotors on drones spin fast and hard enough to cause serious wounds to a person. When using a drone around the public it is important to consider a few safety measures:

  • Never fly the drone at or directly above a person or group. Drones can, and have, fallen from the sky or have just flown off. While not an everyday occurrence, it is nevertheless important that when operating a drone you take every precaution to ensure the safety of those around you.
  • If the drone loses contact with the remote control and flies off then immediately alert nearby air traffic control towers.
  • Keep a log of each flight. Record airtime, conditions, purpose, location, and note if you had to request permission to fly the drone as well as who granted it. Note every issue that occurs with the drone.
  • Do not lose sight of the drone and consider flying with a spotter when using it around the public. The spotter’s job should be to make sure that the drone is within sight and not a danger to anything. This is especially helpful if the drone operator is busy speaking to a group and paying attention to live-streaming feeds from the drone.
  • Consider purchasing propeller guards. These help ensure the safety of others as well as the drone itself should it bump into an object.


Spotting Boas

Image 3 Teaching a volunteer how drones operate. The author is acting as the drone spotter. Photo credit: Kevin Gidusko

Get Creative!

The future of archaeology is sure to see the inclusion of the drone as a standard addition to the archaeologist’s toolkit. Their use in archaeology has already captured the imagination of the public; including drones in public outreach and better educating the public about their potential applications is an easy sell. Drones can be used in teaching about aerial survey techniques, 3D photogrammetry of sites or structures, making informational videos, or even just taking pictures that offer a unique perspective.

Boas Survey

Image 4 There are plenty of software options available for use with drones. Here, a 3D model has been created with the use of Agisoft Photoscan, a 3D photogrammetry software package. Photo credit: Kevin Gidusko

The sections above have covered, incredibly briefly, a few of the issues to consider before purchasing or using a drone for your public outreach or research. The most important things to remember are to stay informed about current regulations concerning drones and to always ensure the safety of others while flying a drone. The basic points in the sections above should help guide your initial foray into the world of drones. However, a quick search online will quickly convey the depth and breadth of this topic thus far. There is a massive amount of information to wade through and even more coming around the corner. We’ve only just begun.

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: 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).


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