An Archaeology of Settler Capitalism: Industrialization, Indigenous Sovereignty, and Shell Beads between New Jersey and the Plains, 1750–1900 CE
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Johnson, Eric Daniel
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CitationJohnson, Eric Daniel. 2021. An Archaeology of Settler Capitalism: Industrialization, Indigenous Sovereignty, and Shell Beads between New Jersey and the Plains, 1750–1900 CE. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractIndigenous artisans of Northeast North America have produced shell beads for thousands of years, including wampum, best known for its place in the 17th century fur trade. By the mid-18th century, Euro-American settlers appropriated the production of wampum and other shell beads for export as trade goods at government and private trading posts on colonial borderlands. Bead manufacturers and distributors in northern New Jersey exported shell beads for Native American consumers as far west as the northern and southern Plains. The industry employed workers of many different backgrounds, including women and men of European, African, and possibly Indigenous ancestry. While initially a household-based cottage industry, bead-making in New Jersey went through a process of partial industrialization, culminating in the Campbell Wampum Factory in the latter half of the 19th century. As American imperialism shifted from the Old Northwest to the Plains, new bead styles emerged from the factory’s drilling machines and water-powered grinding wheels, including hair pipes, a style iconic of Native Plains identity. This dissertation combines analysis of museum collections with new excavations in Bergen County, New Jersey to examine shell bead industrialization under the framework of settler capitalism.
Euro-Americans have conscripted Indigenous shell beads into projects of settler colonialism since the earliest days of colonial interaction in Northeast North America, both through economic practices—including commodification, resource extraction, monetary circulation, and entrapments of debt—as well as political practices of dispossession, violence, and erasure. The framework of “settler capitalism” illustrates how notions of private property, propriety, possessive individualism, and racialization were wielded and contested across capitalist relations of production, gender and race, conceptions of home and belonging, industrial technologies, settler statecraft and diplomacy, and Indigenous sovereignty. Theories of “conscripted materiality” and “entanglement” help ground settler capitalism the analysis in material culture. The material and biological characteristics of mollusks, shell, and technologies of beadmaking and beadwork both afforded and constrained different types of political action.
Methodologically, this dissertation examines industrialization of shell bead production diachronically at three sites: Stoltz Farm (1770–1810), the David Campbell House (1812–1844), and the Campbell Wampum Factory (1850–1900). Documentary and oral-historical claims regarding industrialization are evaluated with archaeological data, including relationships between standardization, technology, stylistic change, efficiency, skill, and output. Lived experiences of labor are reconstructed from archaeological, architectural, and landscape data, including negative health impacts for workers. Settler-capitalist subjectivities are reconstructed from semi-fictionalized accounts of the Campbell Factory in the late 19th century, suggesting ways that the ethics and logics of Indigenous elimination and civilizational supremacy were interwoven with those of capitalism. In assessing stylistic change of shell beads, I argue that as mass consumers, diverse Indigenous peoples drove demand and shaped commodity aesthetics, pushing the limits of capital, labor, shells, and machines for their own interests. Simultaneously, Native nations used settler-made beads as political claims to both identity and land. Circulations (or sometimes refusals) of shell beads helped to garner Indigenous solidarity in the face of settler-capitalist encroachments.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37368198
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