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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 face-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 where 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

Contact

Research and Academic Interests

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

Departments and Programs

Courses

  • ANTH 100. Archaeology
  • ANTH 182. Bones, Bodies, and Forensic Cases
  • ANTH 231. Maps, Culture & Archaeology
  • ANTH 231 Archaeology Lab Methods
  • ANTH 235. Native North America
  • ANTH 281. Repatriation
  • ANTH 287. Skeletal Anatomy
  • ANTH. 305 Forensic Anthropology
  • ANTH 331. Disaster Archaeology
  • ENST 291. Field Experiences

Selected Publications

  • 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. (2010) “Archaeology Without Excavation: Digging Through the Archives of the Pennsylvania State Museum.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 77(2):467-476. 
  • Beisaw, April M. and James G. Gibb, eds (2009) The Archaeology of Institutional Life. University of Alabama Press.
  • Beisaw, April M. (2009) “Constructing Institution Specific Site Formation Models.” The Archaeology of Institutional Life. Edited by A. M. Beisaw and J.G. Gibb. University of Alabama Press. pp. 49-67.
  • Beisaw, April M. (2006) “Once Was Not Enough: Founding and Finding Port Tobacco, Charles County.” Maryland Archeology, 43(2):1-6

    Beisaw, April M. (2006) “Deer, Dogs, Frogs, and Toads: A New Interpretation of the Faunal Remains from the Engelbert Site, Tioga County, New York.” Northeast Anthropology 72:1-22. 

    Beisaw, April M. (2003) “The Archaeology of Michigan’s One-Room Schools.” Michigan Archaeologist 49(3-4):1-20. 

    Gibb, James G. and April M. Beisaw (2000) “Learning Cast Up From the Mire: Archaeological Investigations of Schoolhouses in the Northeastern United States.” Northeastern Historical Archaeology 29:107-129.

     

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Photo: Karl Rabe / Vassar College

April M. Beisaw is a North American archaeologist who studies cultural change and resilience in the relatively recent past (1300 AD to yesterday). Understanding when and why cultures change is necessary for balancing the retention and revival of community identities with the pressures of a constantly changing world.

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. 

April’s other local archaeology project is attempting to locate the footprint of Orson Squire Fowler’s original octagon house; the one that began the building craze of the 1850s. Fowler believed that the octagon house was a mode of building that could improve the world. The self-supporting nature of the structure simplified construction and reduced costs. By using lumber and gravel from the building site, Fowler claimed that octagon houses could provide “a home for all” and a superior one at that. With windows on all sides, fresh air would flow throughout the building to maintain health. With a central stairway, space could be maximized. By adding a greenhouse to the structure, fresh food was freely available. Despite his efforts, the octagon house craze passed and Fowler’s own octagon was demolished by the county after they blamed it for the ill-health of its residents. Fowler’s attempt to improve culture failed and he was largely forgotten about. Reviving Fowler’s story is a way of understanding the successes and failures of today’s “breakthroughs” (think the Prius and those sneakers that were supposed to make us lose weight just by wearing them).

Since 2003, April has been conducting research on the Susquehannock Indians of central Pennsylvania. The Susquehannock are often depicted as enigmatic gigantic (and sometimes cannibalistic) warriors yet the archaeological record tells a more human story - one of cultural change brought about partly from the onset of the Little Ice Age and partly from the arrival of Europeans, both of which had social, economic, and political ramifications. This research was most recently summarized in her article “Memory, Identity, and NAGPRA in the Northeastern United States,” which was published in American Anthropologist and awarded the Gordon R. Willey Prize by the American Anthropological Association. This work was supported by the Funk Foundation and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. More recently, April has been recompiling data from the 1916 Susquehanna River Expedition in preparation for authoring a new book on the Susquehannock.

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.

April teaches in the Anthropology department, and the Native American Studies (American Culture) 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).



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