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Part 1: Cultures in Contact: Melting Pots or Not?

Middleburg Plantation House, South Carolina
We've all heard America referred to as a "melting pot" of cultures from around the world. Each immigrant group contributed customs and traditions to the ever-changing American culture, and slowly or quickly lost their distinctiveness as they became American. Yet Americans today celebrate a multicultural heritage in ethnic celebrations held across the continent, in the varied foods that we all enjoy, and in the value systems we embrace. We see signs of this diversity everywhere.

Is America a melting pot or not? Is there one American culture or many? What does it mean to be, or to become, an American? These questions lead to more general ones about what happens when people of different cultures come in contact with each other, and why. Anthropologists, historians, and archaeologists write of assimilation, acculturation, ethnicity, and the creation of Creole cultures. But these terms have acquired a confusing array of meanings, particularly because of differences in the nature of these contacts.

Some people immigrated to America voluntarily, others came forcibly. Some were enslaved, others conquered, and most expected women and children to submit to men's authority. All faced decisions, and factors that limited their choices, as they proceeded to redefine themselves and others in a new world. Historical archaeologists have the rare chance to explore these contacts, choices, and identities through time, from the unique perspective of material culture.

Projects in the Book

(Click on bold link to view an excerpt)
European Exploration
Jerald T. Milanich – Spaniards and Native Americans at the Missions of La Florida
Clark Spencer Larsen – Bioarchaeology of the Spanish Missions
Emergence of African-American Cultures
Leland Ferguson – African Americans on Southern Plantations
Terrance Weik - Black Seminole Freedom Fighters on the Florida Frontier
Lu Ann De Cunzo - Sidebar 5: Fort Mose, St. Augustine, Florida
Pacific Immigrants
Roberta Greenwood – The Chinese in the Cities of the West

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