Collaborative Legacy of the First Ceramics Laboratories at the Penn Museum: The WPA and Beyond
History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
Other History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology
For decades, scientific approaches have acted as a cornerstone to the processes used by archaeologists to answer questions about past societies. However, just under a century ago, highly innovative research efforts first contributed to the integration of archaeological science into the wider discipline. One such series of research projects were those undertaken by the WPA ceramics laboratories, a joint effort between the Works Progress Administration and the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania (now called the Penn Museum), which employed federally funded workers and the burgeoning methods of ceramic technological analysis to reveal more information on the Museum’s various ceramic collections than previously possible. The present thesis project is the result of extensive archival research into the history and legacy of these original Museum laboratories as a catalyst for the subsequent proliferation and continued development of ceramic analysis techniques, especially that of ceramic petrography, and archaeological science as a whole. In other words, this project aims to tell the story of the WPA laboratories, with particular attention to their impacts on the development of archaeological science and the roles of the interdisciplinary and inter-institutional connections of the Penn Museum and its personnel in this development. Archival evidence proves that the scholarly networks formed by those involved in the WPA projects enabled the principles and methods of archaeological science to spread throughout the archaeological community, with the Museum laboratories serving as the nexus and exemplar of the great possibilities held by these new approaches.