Students in Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology Nathan Meissner’s CentreTerm course “Archaeology of Colonialism” took a multidisciplinary approach to reassess the past through the lens of postcolonial theory and the interpretation of material culture.
In addition to learning in the classroom, Meissner took his students on a nine-day interactive fieldtrip, stopping at several Native American archaeological sites, Colonial missions and Spanish-Indigenous military complexes.
“We stopped at Etowah Mounds—a massive Mississippian center in Georgia—to learn about complex chiefdom and climb some of the largest mounds in North America,” Meissner said. “From there, we went to Mission San Luis Apalachee, which is a locus of social negotiation and hybridity, featuring a Christian mission with an Apalachee council house and ballcourt. We went to St. Augustine, where students toured and presented on a Spanish fort built largely by the Timucua and Apalachee that also housed a substantial number of Apalachee warriors. Students were able to meet with well-known archaeologists who excavated and analyzed the sites, including Dr. Kathleen Deagan, Ann Cordell and Jerry Lee, and also see and touch actual artifacts during our lab tours, making it a truly hands-on experience.”
This is the first time Meissner has taught this course during CentreTerm, though he has taught a variant of it during full semesters.
“The inspiration for the class comes from my own archaeological fieldwork in northern Guatemala, where Itza Maya resisted Spanish imposition for nearly 175 years after a brief encounter with Cortes in A.D. 1525,” he explained. “It made me think about how different mechanisms of resistance and ethnogenesis played out in other areas of Spanish presence, including the area known as ‘La Florida’ in the U.S. It dawned on me that students could experience many of the archaeological sites of colonial entanglement with Spaniards right here in the Southeast without even having to board a plane.”
Meissner said the purpose of the course is to move beyond stereotyped views of Colonialism that often portray native peoples as passive, homogenous and largely absent in their influence on European colonizers. The course was designed to focus more on Indigenous peoples and their agendas that often included using Europeans to further their own political gains.
This course is specifically giving students a chance to see material culture and anthropology outside of publications and textbooks. Students are also able to network with archaeologists to help shape their future careers.
“My end goal for this CentreTerm is to make students think differently about the colonial period and recognize the many ways it permeates present-day thought and culture on a global scale,” he added. “Colonialism is not over by any means and still has profound implications. I hope that students become more critical consumers of the past by recognizing the contributions that archaeology offers to give people who are largely written out of history a voice. I also hope students will think more critically about colonial narratives that are largely guided by ethnocentricity and popular media.”
by Kerry Steinhofer
January 30, 2020