Gilded Ages and Gilded Archaeologies of American Exceptionalism

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Archaeology's ties to an interest in America's natural and cultural resources, enshrined in the Antiquities Act of 1906, can be tied to the development of the presumed entitlements associated with gilded age-era conceptions of America's cultural and racial exceptionalism. Archaeology, historic preservation, and related interests in the materiality of America's past were in fact among the mechanisms used to legitimize America's global emergence in the modern era. Considering elite ideas about race and a fear of "race suicide" as well as the rise of the environmental conservation and the historic house movement, this paper argues that archaeology and related pursuits of historic materiality have been regularly deployed to enforce Anglo-Saxon racial values. Explicitly formed in the historical context of mass-immigration, this dynamic is explored in a discussion of two archaeological sites in Jamaica, Queens connected to gilded-age discourse on Americanization.



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