Doctoral Dissertation Research: Navigating Power: An Archaeological Examination of Movement on South Carolina Waterways (this proposal)

Project: Research project

Project Details


This resubmission investigates the relationships among power, water, and everyday life, utilizing South Carolina rice plantations as a unit of analysis. I will undertake archaeological and archival research to investigate the question: how did the infrastructure of navigable waterways simultaneously reinforce and challenge power structures embedded in the plantation system? The built environment, I predict, facilitated commodity production, surveillance, and mobility in the Lowcountry. By altering the flow of waterways, enslaved individuals could resist centralizing power derived from the flow of commodities and labor. Field work methods will investigate anomalies identified in the Cooper River during side scan sonar surveys undertaken in 2019, partial excavation and mapping of features, comparison of material culture from aquatic contexts with previously excavated terrestrial sites, dating of recovered wood and artifacts, and incorporation of archival material. These data will help understand how, where, and when water-related infrastructure was used along plantation waterways. The Lowcountry is well suited to investigate the cultural alterations of water courses, because of the historical reliance on water transport engineered landscapes to move people and produce cash crops. Following permanent colonization in 1670, Europeans dispersed throughout the region, establishing plantations in locations amenable to agriculture. Waterways provided opportunities for movement within and between plantations and to urban centers. Plantations depended on enslaved laborers, who not only cultivated the plantation’s cash crop, usually rice, but also transported commodities and people along the numerous rivers and creeks of the Lowcountry. The regular use of waterways was supported by building infrastructure, including wharves, rice gates, and a variety of watercraft.
Effective start/end date5/1/22 → 4/30/24


  • National Science Foundation (BCS-2150876)


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