Detroit was a nexus for global exchange, local innovation, and industrial production long before it became the Motor City, a place synonymous with automobile production in the 20th century. Following the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, as the city’s population grew exponentially, a staggering array of mass-produced objects were ushered in to accommodate the demands of the new population and industries. Evidence for Detroit’s increasing participation in global capitalist markets is perhaps most abundant in the archaeological remains of mass-produced everyday objects from the 19th century, including pottery, glassware, and other items, recovered from excavations at multiple sites across the city. While some of the objects originate from distant producers, others are testimonies to local markets and even homespun manufacture. Close interpretations of these objects in relation to their historical contexts reveals insights into the social dynamics, emergent inequalities, and private concerns that faced the city’s residents during a period of rapid industrialization and demographic change. This presentation examines historic-period archaeological objects recovered from households and neighborhoods that occupied different places on the city’s socio-economic spectrum in order to compare and contrast the roles mass-produced objects played in the material and social worlds of Detroiters during the 19th century, a pivotal time in the city’s industrial and urban development. The information presented is rooted in the practice of historical archaeology, which brings together excavated material culture, archival sources, and oral histories to examine the people and processes that prevailing accounts of the past often fail to recognize.
Krysta Ryzewski is a historical archaeologist and an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Wayne State University in Detroit, where she co-leads the Anthropology of the City initiative. Her research explores the consequences of disruptive socio-environmental pressures on past landscapes, communities, and material culture production. She currently conducts major research projects that focus on these relationships at multiple sites in urban North America (Detroit) and in the Caribbean (Montserrat). Her research involves collaboration with several non-academic community partners and is funded by the NEH, NSF, National Geographic Society and other agencies. She is the co-editor (with Laura McAtackney) of Contemporary Archaeology and the City: Creativity, Ruination, and Political Action (OUP, July 2017) and the 2017 recipient of the Society for Historical Archaeology’s John L. Cotter Award.
The 2016-2017 ArtCenter Dialogues theme, “Life Without Objects,” will contribute to ongoing conversations about ecological and economic sustainability by exploring the ideologies shaping the creation, circulation, consumption and afterlife of designed objects. What are the ethics and politics of making objects today, and how might designers learn from this complex landscape to reflect on their own practices? What opportunities and frameworks for design emerge when objects are understood and approached differently? This lecture series will convene artists, designers and scholars from across the arts and sciences to explore these questions, as ArtCenter advances a critical discussion of the social, political, economic and cultural implications of designing and making in a world full of stuff.
The ArtCenter Dialogues, a lecture series made possible by a generous endowment from the Toyota Motor Corporation, brings eminent speakers to the College from a wide variety of art, design and educational backgrounds to inspire creativity, promote thoughtful discussion and broaden perspectives.