April M. Beisaw
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
April M. Beisaw received her Ph.D. in anthropology from Binghamton University in 2007. She began teaching at Vassar College in 2012, after several years at Heidelberg university in Ohio. As a North American archaeologist, her research is focused on how identity was created, maintained, and modified in the past.
April’s research on the Susquehannock Indians of central Pennsylvania has been supported by the Funk Foundation and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The Susquehannock are often depicted as enigmatic gigantic cannibalistic warriors yet the archaeological record tells another story - one of cultural change brought about partly from the onset of the Little Ice Age and partly from the arrival of Europeans, both of which had social, economic, and political ramifications. This research was most recently summarized in the article "Memory, Identity, and NAGPRA in the Northeastern United States," which was awarded the Gordon R. Willey Prize by the American Anthropological Association.
The complexity of identity can also be seen through the archaeology of social institutions. April’s work on one-room schoolhouses has shown how these sites can reveal the uniqueness of individual communities. In the early years of the American education system, it was the local community who made most of the decisions regarding their school - from where it should be located to what would be taught in it. State and Federal regulations were selectively followed. The archaeological remnants of these decisions reflect the changing character of the community in which a school served. Other archaeologists have taken similar approaches to studying prisons, asylums, and other institutions and those project are summarized in the book “The Archaeology of Institutional Life,” co-edited with James G. Gibb.
April is also passionate about the role that local archaeology can play in strengthening contemporary community identity. She has been involved in several public archaeology programs where local residents are invited to help excavate at one-room schools, historic homes, and even an entire town. April was the Director of Research for the Port Tobacco Archaeological Project (now in hiatus) which explored the 400-year history of a single town in Maryland. The project maintained a daily blog at porttobacco.blogspot.com as well as a You Tube channel and a Flickr site.
An expert in the analysis of human an animal bones from archaeological sites, April has analyzed faunal assemblages from Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Utah, Wisconsin, and Texas. This experience led to the book “A Manual for the Identification of Animal Bones from Archaeological Sites” that is being published by Texas A&M University Press.
April teaches in the Anthropology department and the Native American Studies program (American Culture Program). Her courses include Introduction to archaeology, the archaeology of animals, landscape archaeology, archaeology of North American, the archaeology of disasters, historical archaeology, forensic anthropology, and repatriation.