Date of Award




Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of Anthropology

Content Description

1 online resource (iv, 54 pages) : illustrations, map.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Sean Rafferty


19th century, African American, Archaeology, Consumer behavior, Identity, Material Culture, African Americans

Subject Categories

History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology


The legacy of slavery in Albany created a racialized landscape and economy that marginalized African Americans in the years leading up to manumission in 1827 and beyond. A small enclave of African American families on Livingston Avenue provided a study group for how marginalized individuals create, maintain, and abandon urban communities. In addition, individuals in the group demonstrated well-documented involvement in the local Vigilance Committee, providing an opportunity to examine activism as a factor in the construction of racial and cultural identity. The study of identity construction on multiple scales has been pursued by anthropologists, but rarely in archaeology beyond defining sets of ethnic, gender, and racial characterizations. This study proposes examining individual and community identity through the structures of racism and resistance. Consumption strategies of African Americans manifest in individual choices at a household level, but are situated in a larger social structure of political and institutionalized racial and class oppression. By examining the Johnson house and ceramics found in an 1850s deposit at the site, the contradictory and creative elements of African American consumption practices provide useful insights into how this community formed. The material culture analysis demonstrates that African American consumption in this activist community involved demonstrations of status transformations and class solidarity. Political racism continues to affect the modern-day community where the site is situated, and indirectly threatens the cultural resources of the past activist residents.