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April M. Beisaw Associate Professor of Anthropology

April M. Beisaw is a North American archaeologist who studies cultural change and resilience in the relatively recent past (1300 AD to yesterday). The pressures of a fast-paced world can encourage the uncritical acceptance of stereotypes that serve to explain why “others” are inferior to “ourselves” or may be hindering change that might be viewed as “progress.” Through archaeology, we can challenge stereotypes, remember forgotten events, and imagine new futures. For example, by studying the peoples and places that were sacrificed to construct the New York City water system, April hopes to shift the dialogue from where urban areas find new water sources to who they will take water from. By documenting Native American protest sites from the 1969 takeover of Alcatraz to 2016’s Dakota Access Pipeline protest camps at the Standing Rock reservation, we can see the consistency of calls for America to live up to the treaty promises our government made. The present was created in the past, so the past is our future.

  • BA, Rutgers University; MA, PhD, Binghamton University
  • At Vassar since 2012


Research and Academic Interests

  • Indiginous Studies
  • Archeological Anthropology
  • Biological Anthropology
  • Community Engagement
  • Environmental Studies
  • Forensic Science

Departments and Programs


  • ANTH 100. Archaeology
  • ANTH 210. The Dead
  • ANTH 305. Topics in Advanced Biological Anthropology

Selected Publications

  • Beisaw, April M. and Glynnis Olin (2020) From Alcatraz to Standing Rock: Archaeology and Contemporary Native American Protests (1969-Today). Historical Archaeology 54(3): 537-555. DOI 10.1007/s41636-020-00252-6

  • Beisaw, April M. (2020) Telling Ghost Stories: Communicating Across Timescapes and Between World Views. In: Blurring TimeScapes: Subversions to Erasure & Remembering Ghosts. edited by Sara Surface-Evans, Amanda Garrison, and Kisha Supernat. pp. 13-19. Bergan Books.

  • Beisaw, April M. (2020) The Archaeology of Removal in North America. TERRANCE WEIK, editor. 2019. University Press of Florida, Gainesville. Review for American Antiquity.

  • Beisaw, April M. (2019) Stress and Shifting Identities in the Susquehanna Valley Around the Time of European Arrival. In: Contact and Cultural Identity: Recent Studies of the Susquehannocks. edited by Paul Raber. pp. 73-90. Penn State University Press.

  • Beisaw, April M. (2019) A History of America in 100 Maps by Susan Schulten. Living Maps Review 6. 

  • Beisaw, April M. (2018) Process and Meaning in Spatial Archaeology: Investigations into Pre-Columbian Iroquoian Space and Place. ERIC E. JONES, JOHN L. CREESE, editors. 2017. University Press of Colorado, Norman. Review for American Antiquity 83(1):176-177.
  • Beisaw, April M. (2017) “Ruined by the Thirst for Urban Prosperity: Contemporary Archaeology of City Water Systems.” Contemporary Archaeology and the City: Creativity, Ruination, and Political Action, edited by Laura McAtackney and Krysta Ryzewski. Oxford Press. pp. 132-148.  
  • Beisaw, April M. and Jane E. Baxter (2017) “America’s One-Room Schools: Sites of Regional Authority and Symbols of Rural Autonomy.’ International Journal of Historical Archaeology 21(4):806-826. DOI 10.1007/s10761-017-0402-9
  • Beisaw, April M. and Penelope Duus (2016) “Repatriation as Inspiration: Multi-Generational Perspectives on American Archaeology-Museum Relationships.” Museum Worlds 5(1):95-110.
  • Beisaw, April M. (2016) “Water for the City, Ruins for the Country: Archaeology of New York City’s Watershed.” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 20(3):614-626.
  • Beisaw, April M. (2016) “Ghost Hunting as Archaeology: Archaeology as Ghost Hunting.” Lost City, Found Pyramid: Understanding Alternative Archaeology and Pseudoscientific Practices. edited by Jeb J. Card and David S. Anderson. University of Alabama Press. pp. 185-198.
  • Beisaw, April M. (2015) “Faunal Remains.” The Corey Village and the 16th Century Cayuga World. edited by Jack Rossen. pp. 110-139. Syracuse University Press.
  • Beisaw, April M. (2013) Identifying and Interpreting Animal Bones: A Manual. Texas A&M University Press. 
  • Beisaw, April M. (2012) “Environmental History of the Susquehanna Valley Around the Time of European Contact.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 79(4):366-376.  
  • Beisaw, April M. (2010) “Memory, Identity, and NAGPRA in the Northeastern United States.” American Anthropologist 112(2):244-256. 
  • Beisaw, April M. and James G. Gibb, eds (2009) The Archaeology of Institutional Life. University of Alabama Press.


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Photo: Karl Rabe / Vassar College

Since 2012, April has been documenting the archaeological remains of communities impacted by the creation and maintenance of the New York City water system. Focusing on the Boyd’s Corners (aka Boyd Corners) reservoir in Kent, and the Ashokan Reservoir in Olive, April and her Vassar students have surveyed thousands of acres of City owned properties around these reservoirs to juxtapose 100-years of specific land use history with the City’s own goals of acquiring these properties. The archaeology reveals that what the City describes as recreation land maintained for environmental protection is often littered with waste, harvested for resources, and anything but natural wilderness. These findings are part of a new book April is writing on the cultural costs of urban water systems. City water rarely free or natural. 

An expert in the analysis of bones from archaeological sites, April recently published A Manual for the Identification of Animal Bones from Archaeological Sites with Texas A&M University Press. Her first book was The Archaeology of Institutional Life, published by University of Alabama Press and co-edited with Jim Gibb. April is now an Associate Editor with the journal Historical Archaeology

April teaches in the Anthropology department, and the Native American Studies (American Studies) and Environmental Studies programs. She received her PhD in anthropology from Binghamton University in 2007 and began teaching at Vassar College in 2012 (after several years teaching at Heidelberg University in Ohio).


Territory Acknowledgement
The Vassar campus exists on lands that were once home to the Delaware Nation, the Delaware Lenape Tribe and the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians. Although many sources reference the Wappingers as the indigenous peoples of our campus, they were a confederacy of Native peoples who organized at one time in response to Euro-American incursions into the area and no longer exist as an organized group.