Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Fences are Down at Zuccotti Park

After a fairly long absence for winter break, I returned to New York City only a few days after the news broke that the fences came down at Zuccotti Park.

Unfortunately, the ensuing celebrations did lead to several arrests.

Going around the park, the following things were noticeable: neither police, nor private security presence had diminished visibly.

Also noticable: the utter cleanliness of the park and the gardens, damaged in the occupation and ruined in the eviction, that were slowly being replanted (despite the bitter cold).

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Call for Papers and Objects

Papers and Objects are solicited for a session on the archaeology of contemporary protest movements at the upcoming TAG-USA conference in Buffalo, NY, May 17-20, 2012.


Call for Papers
Session: The Archaeology of Contemporary Protest Movements
What can archaeology teach us about events as they unfold? We invite papers that take an archaeological perspective on current events, such as the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, the ‘Arab Spring’ or the recent riots in the UK. This session is designed to explore what archaeology can contribute to understanding fast moving events with short-lived and transient material traces. How might an archaeological standpoint contribute to understanding the politics of cleaning and garbage; the (im)materiality of protests; and the tensions between ephemerality & commemoration?

Call for Objects
Exhibit: The Archaeology of Occupy Wall Street.
The Center for Archaeology is also putting together an archive of Occupy Wall Street artefacts: handouts from OWS-related demonstrations  - such as those of Oct 5 and November 17- or from Zuccotti Park itself; artefacts recovered from the trash, and artefacts recovered from the gutters around Zuccotti Park early in the morning on November 15 and November 16. These objects we intend to use for an exhibit "Occupy the display cases!" If you have any artefacts, objects, papers that you would like to see included in this exhibit, or if you would like to see the artefacts (perhaps for use in or as inspiration for a paper) please contact any one of us.

For more information:
Mark Mulder
John Molenda
Amara Magloughlin

A bundle of links: post-eviction debris

First of all, the New Yorker has an interesting article up on the origins of OWS.

Archaeological Materials

In the very early morning of Tuesday November 15, around 1am, the NYPD moved in to clear Zuccotti Park of its occupiers. The press was kept largely at bay, which makes the event altogether more interesting for us as archaeologists, as good reports of what happened in the park are few and far between. A NYT eyewitness report can be found here and here's another at Mother Jones (which has video). Live-reports can be found at this OWS website, at BoingBoing, at Gothamist, where there is good ongoing coverage, such as this recently posted video.

The morning after the eviction I went to Zuccotti Park, my photos can be found here. The park is clear, but debris from the occupation remained, especially in the gutters. I made my round sifting through the gutters from the Orange sculpture in the southeast corner toward the west and then around the park. The first things I noticed was change. Lots and lots of change: pennies and nickles mostly. Going through the gutters taking pictures of objects in situ before picking them up attracted attention and as I got to talk with a number of people I learned that earlier that morning (I arrived around 8:30am) people had already been seen picking up change. This would explain the lack of quarters and dimes.

A second notable category of objects was formed by the broken tent posts: I encountered more than I collected.

Among the further objects I collected: two brass spoons covered in silver, medical supplies (unused injection needles, a penlight for testing pupil reflexes).

Moreover, plenty of objects - possessions of OWS'ers - had been flushed down the storm drains, such as these kitchen utensils:

More pictures can be found in this Flickr set and this Flickr group.

The objects I and my colleagues collected during this visit and others are kept at the Columbia University Archaeology Lab.

These objects were among the debris of the eviction that stayed in situ, but most others were removed by the NYPD and brought to the NYC Sanitation Department - ostensibly so that people could come and pick up their possessions. This in turn became problematic as possessions often turned out to have been destroyed even when returned. One major instance is that of the laptops and other possessions, including the issue of whether or not the city has destroyed and damaged the Occupier's library books, which they took during the eviction - and again after re-opening the park.

And what's next? Here's one plan for further protesting the city's space.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Material Culture of OWS

As archaeologists we are particularly interested in material culture, for this reason the following link may be of interest: a weblog with scans of the letters and cards that accompanied packages sent to the protestors at Zuccotti Park: Occupy Wall Street Care Packages (Tumblr).

Sunday, October 16, 2011

About OWS Archaeology

We are a group of graduate students at Columbia University that share an interest in the archaeology of the contemporary past. This blog allows is a central point for us to exchange ideas among ourselves and with other interested people. The focus of this blog, perhaps we should call it a research project, is the current Occupy Wall Street movement. We hope to gather a group of people to study the Occupy Wall Street archaeologically and see what an archaeological approach can tell us about this movement.

Below is a preliminary mini-manifesto that we'd invite you to comment upon.


Occupy the Display Cases!

The current Occupy Wall Street movement has captured the imagination of people throughout the United States and indeed the world. And yet, this movement, this site continues to be under threat. Already the city has threatened to 'clean' the park and impose new rules that would make further protests in the current form impossible. For us, as archaeologists, this would mean that a valuable opportunity to learn about contemporary protest movement would be lost, as with the removal of the protesters every material trace would be cleaned off. Fortunately, it has not come this far yet. But we should still ask the question: what will remain of the occupation? As far as Mayor Bloomberg and Brookfield Properties are concerned: not much. The park would be scrubbed and returned to some kind of imagined Ballardian primeval state. Of course, that is impossible: scrubbing is not that easy. But still: unless we intervene now, what memories remain? Unless we intervene now, no record will be made with which to study the site. And no objects will be collected that can continue to carry the memory and the spirit of this movement. But if we intervene we can serve a triple purpose: to  memorialize, to take away some of what Mayor Bloomberg and Brookfield Properties see as 'rubbish', and to create an opportunity for us as student-archaeologists to study the methods and purposes of the archaeology of the contemporary past.

Archaeologists can be considered a very peculiar type of cleaners: archaeologists take stuff away for study and for safe-keeping. Now one may say: we are too late, the occupiers already did a great cleaning of the square last thursday in order to stave off - successfully, in the end - the city's threat. There is nothing to study or to take away anymore. But not all is lost! New deposits surely have already been made.

Too often, archaeologists are put away in the corner: you study what is past and what is dead. But yesterday is already past and dead, never to return, indeed the last second is too. We aim to redefine archaeology as a material anthropology: the study of humanity's eternal live-in partner: its objects, its surroundings and how both maintain their various relationships. If we define archaeology like this, it does not matter if we study abandoned or actively used spaces: we are interested in humans and their material surrounding. We are interested in past and in present and how they impinge on each other in every day.

We are not just cleaners. Archaeology is part of the processes of memorialization and for this reason, archaeology is an inherently political process. It has the ability to fix certain memories in the collective memory. Our aim is to collect samples of material culture from the Occupy Wall Street movement. We have two aims: to gather data archaeologically at the site(s) of Occupy Wall Street, and secondly to create a display of our data. This way, we can occupy the display cases!