For the past three decades, archaeologists from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst have been conducting extensive archaeological investigations at the W.E.B. Du Bois Boyhood Homesite in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. This was once the home of William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois, one of the 20th century’s leading African-American scholars who challenged the institutionalized racism of the Jim Crow era.
W.E.B. Du Bois lived at the site as a child, which was continuously owned by his relatives and members of the Burghardt family. Du Bois owned the property from 1928 until 1954, when the home was demolished. While the structure no longer stands, the site is listed as a National Historic Landmark, designed with a series of trails and informational signs to serve as a contemplative space for public interpretation of African-American heritage in New England.
The goal of principal archaeologists Dr. Robert Paynter and Prof. Whitney Battle-Baptiste has been to assess the extent and integrity of the material landscape, specifically with regards to the lives of an African-American family who resided at the site for over 130 years in what Du Bois refers to in his writings as “The House of the Black Burghardts.” The archaeologists have been striving to interpret how these artifacts illuminate and reconstruct ideologies of domestic African-American spaces and the enveloping cultural narrative of New England.
This episode of The DIG as well as all artifacts in our 365 Days of Artifacts series was made possible by Emily Felder. Emily is a documentary filmmaker and editor based in Western Massachusetts.
One such documentary includes “Layers of Pompeii,” a film showcasing the contemporary Italian city of Pompeii, particularly focusing on the historical and modern-day relevance of the Quadriporticus, one of the oldest active archaeology sites at Pompeii, as well as a massive player in Italy’s tourist industry.
Producing such films, and her belief that archaeology should be about civic engagement and social relevance, has fostered Emily’s interest and collaboration with Archaeology in the Community to film the W.E.B. Du Bois Boyhood Homesite as not only a commemoration of the life and legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois, but a means to articulating critical heritage through engaged archaeology.