Date Awarded

Summer 2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Neil L Norman

Committee Member

Martin Gallivan

Committee Member

Michelle Lelievre

Committee Member

Scott Nelson


Richmond, Virginia, located along the fall line of the James River, was an important political boundary during prehistory; was established as an English colonial town in 1737; and was a center of the interstate slave trade and the capitol of the Confederacy during the nineteenth century. Although Richmond holds a prominent place in the narrative of American and Virginia history, the city’s archaeological resources have received incredibly little attention or preservation advocacy. However, in the wake of a 2013 proposal to construct a baseball stadium in the heart of the city’s slave trading district, archaeological sensitivity and vulnerability became a political force that shaped conversations around the economic development proposal and contributed to its defeat. This dissertation employs archival research and archaeological ethnography to study the variable development of Richmond’s archaeological value as the outcome of significant racial politics, historic and present inequities, trends in academic and commercial archaeology, and an imperfect system of archaeological stewardship. This work also employs spatial sensitivity analysis and studies of archaeological policy to examine how the city’s newly emerging awareness of archaeology might improve investigation and interpretation of this significant urban archaeological resource. This research builds upon several bodies of scholarship: the study of urban heritage management and municipal archaeology; the concept of archaeological ethnography; and anthropological studies into how value should be defined and identified. It concludes that Richmond’s archaeological remains attract attention and perceived importance in part through their proximity and relation to other political and moral debates within the city, but that in some cases political interests ensnare archaeological meaning or inhibit interest in certain archaeological subjects. This analysis illuminates how archaeological materiality and the history of Richmond’s preservation movements has created an interest in using archaeological investigations as a tool for restorative justice to create a more equitable historic record. Additionally, it studies the complexity of improving American urban archaeological stewardship within a municipal system closely connected with city power structures.



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