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  • Beneath the Ivory Tower: The Archaeology of Academia
  • Paul R. Mullins
Beneath the Ivory Tower: The Archaeology of Academia, edited by R. K. Skowronek and K. E. Lewis. University Press of Florida, 2010. 352 pp. $59.95 (cloth). ISBN 978-0-8130-3422-5.

Nearly every higher educational institution has produced its own conventional historical account, a study that typically revolves around the legacies of various administrations, details the faculty's scholarly contributions, and stakes some claim to the institution's distinctive history. Relatively few of those histories pay much attention to the prosaic details of the everyday life of students, faculty, and staff or seem to acknowledge that those details harbor interesting, critical, and even unique insights into the institution's heritage. Historical archaeology focuses on these details of everyday material life, assuming that such apparently mundane patterns reflect broader social, cultural, and ideological currents and reveal how the masses negotiate such broader structural influences in a vast range of ways. Yet relatively little historical archaeology has actually been conducted on college and university campuses, which routinely cover hundreds of well-preserved acres preserving centuries of material culture. Archaeological excavations on campuses provide exceptionally rich opportunities for public projects that demonstrate the depth of institutional heritage, reveal the concrete processes of institutional growth, and are rich opportunities to demystify archaeological method and interpretation.

Russell Skowronek and Kenneth Lewis' edited collection, Beneath the Ivory Tower: The Archaeology of Academia, details a series of archaeological studies conducted on a wide range of American campuses with material data from [End Page 353] the seventeenth through twentieth centuries. Unlike standard institutional histories, these archaeologies provide fine-grained insight into the details of campus life, dissecting the material culture of student life, the specifics of campus architecture, and the ways in which campus communities have negotiated social discipline. Beyond simply documenting everyday material life on campus, these studies probe universities' role in historic preservation and examine how archaeology can help higher educational institutions engage with a variety of communities. Skowronek and Lewis group the contributions into three basic thematic sections. The first section includes four chapters that reflect how archaeology can be used to fill in incomplete documentary histories by revealing the material growth of campuses and connecting concrete local changes to broader patterns in urbanization, education, and similar national and even international tends. For instance, Stanley South examines a 1973 project on the University of South Carolina campus, which certainly was among the very earliest archaeological projects conducted on an American university campus. The 1973 project was part of a renovation plan for the earliest part of the South Carolina campus, and South's excavations provided otherwise undocumented details on architectural placement and the timing of construction episodes that guided subsequent campus preservation planning. The second set of contributions examine how archaeology provides a critical analysis of inherited stereotypes and fills in details of everyday life that are otherwise commonly ignored. For instance, Laura Galke examines the disciplinary codes imposed on students by the faculty of Liberty Hall Academy in Lexington, Virginia, focusing on how archaeological material culture reveals the myriad ways students broke from such disciplinary codes. R. P. Stephen Jones, Patricia Samford, and Elizabeth Jones' assessment of the University of North Carolina campus cleverly interprets a university landscape that has many of its earliest nineteenth-century buildings but has nevertheless changed quite dramatically and continually since the late eighteenth century. The final three chapters in the collection examine the politics of campus archaeology. For instance, Jodie O'Gorman details a thoughtful project on the campus of Michigan State University, and Laura Jones examines the powerful teaching opportunities provided by an on-campus archaeology project.

For many readers, the book's primary contribution will simply be its ability to stress the powerful potential contributions that can be made by archaeology as part of a broad range of campus planning activities. Universities often have little or no real management plan for archaeological resources, and they risk running headlong into a complicated range of laws regulating such resources. The papers show thoughtful ways universities took stewardship of their archaeological heritage with reflective resource management strategies, and the volume shows how archaeological projects...


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