deltabridge

Excavating the Past: A Look Into the Lives of Transient Workers

Imagine spending several weeks rediscovering forgotten people, letting them tell you about their life and their struggles, and then bringing that story to the rest of the world. This is exactly how Justin Uehlein and a team of American University students spent their summer, excavating a site in Southern Pennsylvania. Justin is a PhD. Student working on his Dissertation and he led a group of 2 graduate students and 3 undergraduates on a field school at a hobo jungle where he is currently conducting research.

This was an incredible opportunity for students to learn first-hand about excavation methods in the field of Archeology. Several of the students participating in the field school had never had any Archeological experience, and the field school allowed them to work closely with Justin and his advisor Dr. Daniel Sayers.

Justin’s research involves researching transient laborers in capitalist society, and in specific he has focused on hobos in the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries. The site of his dissertation work is a hobo jungle, or camp, located next to a river under a trestle bridge near Delta Pennsylvania. The field school offered students the opportunity to see the way hobo jungles would appear where there was access to transportation and available work, such as the quarry in Delta.

Justin has used this insight to develop a predictive model for locating additional hobo jungles, which he has already used to test 26 sites across the northeastern United States.  This model could lead to a larger project detailing the experience of transient laborers who lived at these sites, and Justin hopes this will provide research opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students going forward. Even now, some students are taking full advantage of this research to advance their own work.

Margaret (Maggie) Stone is a master’s student who participated in the field school this summer, and she has used the experience to frame her graduate research. Maggie has begun developing a website which focuses on the Delta hobo site, and “gives a rundown of Archeological process and what it looks like in the field”. This website will serve as part of her final research project, and when completed will give individuals the opportunity to explore the exciting discoveries at the Delta site, as well as learn more about the discipline of Archeology.

Justin presented this research at the weekly Social Justice Colloquium. By presenting this work in a variety of formats, Justin, Maggie, and others who have contributed to the research seek to clarify the relationship between transient laborers such as hobos and the capitalist system. The necessary and undesirable condition of transient labor no longer bears the same appearance of hobos from the early 20th century. However, by better understanding how hobos lived and sought after work we may gain a better understanding how people seek out temporary work today.

 

If you are interested in learning more about the work students at AU do or about the public anthropology program you can check out our MAPA page.

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