Material and mythical perspectives on ethnicity: An historical archaeology study of cultural identity, national historiography, and the Eastern Cape frontier of South Africa, 1820–1860
This dissertation study explores the material residues of British-indigenous interaction on the 19th century, eastern frontier of the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa). Mass-produced European ceramics recovered from four historical archaeology sites---a British settler hinterland homestead, a colonial town center, a British military fort, and a mission station with previously enslaved, previously indentured, and immigrant indigenous African inhabitants---form the focus of the study: These ceramic remains (3,016 fragments obtained in surface surveys and trash dump/midden excavations) are employed in a multiscalar strategy of cross-cultural comparison (intra-site, inter-site, and global colonial frontier scales of study) to gather insight into the construction, reproduction, and transformation of shared cultural beliefs and values during this time of culture contact and change. This dissertation argues that the frontier inhabitants use ceramic decoration and vessel shape to reflect and actively communicate information about the making and marking of social identities (ethnicities and nationalism) within the newly emerging, colonial, social order. In illustrating the situational nature of ethnicity (as works ever-in-progress), this dissertation study provides new data, methods, and results potentially useful for deconstructing the essentialist and monolithic conceptions of identity that have long dominated the South African worldview and which continue to endure despite the realization of more recent political dispensation. In turn, this archaeological study of ethnicity is itself contextualized in terms of the past (colonial) and more recent (Apartheid and post-Apartheid) political and social contexts shaping South African regional disciplinary practices, metropolitan Anthropology, and North American historical archaeology.
0331: African history