Archaeology in the News: 2,400 year old grave found in Mexico City



In the last ten months, a team of archaeologists working with INAH (Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia or the National Institute of Anthropology and History)  have recently discovered a 2,400 year old burial in Mexico City. Archaeologists found ten human skeletons buried together on the site of Tlalpan.

The Site

The burial site was discovered on the site of Tlalpan during the summer of 2017. Tlalpan is a southern district located in Mexico City and has a rich archaeological past including both Aztec and Mayan histories. Mexico City’s archaeological fame has always been filled with Aztec and Mayan finds, but this recent discovery stood out among the rest. It was unique because it was both 2,400 years old and discovered by accident. The site used to house old school buildings and priest’s dorms. Now, it’s protected by the city while under excavation. 

At first glance, the ten skeletons appeared Aztec due to their physical positions. This oddly shaped, large human burial suggests human sacrifice; and the Aztec civilization practiced it regularly. Unfortunately, the Aztec civilization wasn’t around until the 16th century and these bones are almost 2,000 years older than that. [1]  It quickly became clear to archaeologists that this grave pre-dates anything Aztec and would have been associated with one of Mexico’s ancient civilizations. 


Archaeologists Jimena Rivera Escamilla (Left) and unnamed colleague (Right) next to the grave site.

From what they can tell, archaeologists believe the region surrounding the site was characterized by smaller, hunter-gatherer civilizations and the possible village associated with this grave may have lasted for around 500 years. [2]  Some experts speculate this site was Mayan. The Mayan civilization was around when these people were killed and buried, as they were in their early stage known as the Preclassic/Formative Period (Roughly 1800 B.C. – 250 A.D.). [3]  And although this is likely, nothing has been confirmed by the INAH. All that is known, however, is that these skeletons were there centuries before the days of Chichén Itzá.

The Finds

At this time, only three skeletons have been properly analyzed. Archaeologists can confirm that there are two female adult skeletons and one male. Even though the seven remaining skeletons have not been studied, there was unmistakable evidence of a smaller adult skeleton, a child’s skeleton between three and five-years-old, and a one-month-old infant skeleton arranged in the circle. [4]

At this point in the excavation, archaeologists believe this to be a ritualistic burial. Ritualistic tendencies are hard to define, as there aren’t written sources on the matter. But, the nature of the find is unique from previous discoveries in the area because these skeletons were interlocked and arranged in a circular pattern. Archaeologists noticed that most of the arm bones of each skeleton were purposely linked with the others, appearing under the spines of the skeletons next to them. With many heads positioned inward, the skeletons fanned out in a circle. Some experts are cleverly calling it a “circle of life,” due to the pattern and ages of the skeletons. [5]


Here, you can see how close the skeletons were to each other. Notice a second skeleton’s set of rib bones on the left connecting to its pelvis and leg bones under the first skeleton’s skull. 

Interestingly enough, many of these skeletons were mutilated in some nature before they were buried. Teeth appeared to have been filed down and many of the skulls and vertebrae had physical evidence of antemortem trauma. The people buried were also offered bowls, pots, figurines, etc. Archaeologists also found ceramic plates and stones placed in their hands. [6]


Notice the ceramic disk at the top right corner of the photo. 

The meaning behind the burial is unknown and the site is still being analyzed to this day. Information about the dig is published by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. For further reading about the dig, visit the INAH’s website or watch INAH’s YouTube video about the finds (Official information is in Spanish).



[All Photos] All Photos are taken by Mauricio Marat, INAH. “Descubren En Tlalpan Un Entierro Múltiple De Los Primeros Aldeanos De La Cuenca De México.” Bienvenidos Al INAH. January, 2018.

[1] “Descubren En Tlalpan Un Entierro Múltiple De Los Primeros Aldeanos De La Cuenca De México.” Bienvenidos Al INAH. January 2018.

[2] Gibbens, Sarah. “Interlocked Skeletons Found at Pre-Aztec Burial Site.” National Geographic. February 01, 2018.

[3] Staff. “Maya.” 2009.

[4] “Descubren En Tlalpan Un Entierro Múltiple De Los Primeros Aldeanos De La Cuenca De México.” Bienvenidos Al INAH. January 2018.

[5] Zorich, Zach. “Circle of Life.” Archaeology Magazine. April 9, 2018.

[6] “Descubren En Tlalpan Un Entierro Múltiple De Los Primeros Aldeanos De La Cuenca De México.” Bienvenidos Al INAH. January 2018.



Crushing “Comps”: A Guide to Mastering the Comprehensive Exam as a Villanova History Graduate Student

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If you are a Villanova History graduate student, then “Comps” can be a daunting word for you. Hearing professors and second-year students discuss “Comps” may cause copious amounts of anxiety, especially if you are nearing your exams. As a recent “Comps” examinee (March 2018) and graduate (May 2018), I am here to tell you that I completely understand your predicament and various feelings about these exams. You will feel overwhelmed, stressed, tired, and pressured to prove yourself as a historian through this comprehensive exam. You may also be doubting yourself along the way, but eventually, you will realize the incredible knowledge you have acquired over your last eight to ten courses at Villanova. Below is a guide to current graduate students who will be taking “Comps” shortly.


How to approach “Comps”


Advice to first-year students:
  • Take excellent notes during all of your readings and classes- focus on the thesis, approach/method/theory, sources, and make connections to your other readings if applicable. These notes will come in handy later on when you are studying.
  • Have digital copies of your syllabi and any papers you have written. These will be needed when you are asked to compile your complete bibliography.
  • If you have time, then review your notes at the end of each semester. Try to make connections or draw out big themes related to your concentration. Make a note of key historians in your concentration. Pay attention to the names you hear over and over in your classes or readings (they are repeated for a reason!).
  • Theory and Methods is your friend for the general questions. Do the readings. Take the notes. You will thank yourself later on.


Advice to second-year students:
  • If you haven’t already, start compiling your complete bibliography separated into the books and articles you read for each class as well as your research paper bibliographies.
  • Start thinking about your board members. Try to pick professors that you have had multiple classes with and who know you well.


Advice to upcoming exam-takers:
  • MEET WITH YOUR BOARD ASAP- I cannot stress this point enough! It is so important to meet with your board members to discuss what classes are included in your concentration and possible questions that will be asked. Do not be afraid to discuss how you should approach studying with them either. They are the pros (and the graders) after all!
  • Make copies of previous exam questions that pertain to your concentration paying the closest attention to those asked by your board members.
  • Gather all of your notes from all readings, classes, and papers. You’ll be walking around with a stack on notebooks for a few weeks.
  • Go through your notes and highlight major historians, sources, and themes. Use these mostly for your concentration exam, but “classic” sources can be applied to the general questions as well.
  • Make study guides. Use your complete bibliography as a starting point to keep your notes organized by class.
  • Pick out and focus on seven of the nine general questions. Outline your answers to these questions starting with a thesis. These questions are complex and multidimensional- make sure your answer is, too, but remain clear and concise in your argument. Know and use at least five sources that best support your thesis and make its applicability to your answer very clear. Answer these questions ahead of time and memorize your answers! No excuses!
  • Meet with classmates to study, especially those you had multiple classes with since you will have similar bibliographies.

How I prepared for “Comps”


Your time to study will be limited, especially if you are taking a full course load and working. It is important to set up a study schedule to keep you on track and make sure you devote enough time to both exams (morning and afternoon). I chose the two weeks leading up to “Comps” to completely submerge myself into studying and divided my time accordingly. I ended up spending five days on concentration studying and five days on general studying with a final review day spent on memorizing my key sources and outlines. I also made a master study guide which included notes for every source on my complete bibliography and a timeline of historiography in the US and Europe from the nineteenth century to the present with key schools, historians, methods, and events or movements that influenced them.


Concentration (Morning) Exam:

  • Kerrison advised me to think of my exams as a synthesis of my studies rather than a fully comprehensive approach. Her advice allowed me to narrow in on the main players and books in my concentration and to create a dialogue between them. I ended up compiling a list of forty “go-to” books and articles that I knew I could rely on to answer my morning questions. I spent a lot of my time contrasting and connecting these main books and articles which ended up being extremely useful for my questions.
  • I also sat with the previous exam questions and highlighted the ones that stood out to me as questions that applied to my specific studies. I went through each question and wrote down a thesis and about five sources that would help me answer that question off the top of my head. If I struggled to answer it sufficiently, then I went through my bibliography as a refresher. I suggest doing this just to get you used to answer questions without any material in front of you. It is amazing to see how much you already know without really studying.


General (Afternoon) Exam:
  • I used the same approach for the general questions as I did with my concentration. I came up with an initial thesis and sources. Then, I revised them both to fully answer the question and made sure those sources fit my argument. I tried my best to include sources that probably would not be used in my morning exams. Showing your full breadth of knowledge is important.
  • I chose not to study questions three and four simply because I liked the other questions better.
  • I also studied these questions with two of my classmates with whom I had at least 4 classes with. I found their insight to be interesting and tweaked my answers to include some of their ideas as well. Talking through these questions helped me see another approach to them which broadened my answers.
  • I used the day before “Comps” to memorize these seven answers.


During and after the exams

  • Take a deep breath. Read the directions carefully. Then, read your questions. If applicable, choose the questions you feel most confident about answering. Start with the question that you know you have an answer to immediately. Take the first few minutes to outline your answer. List the sources you want to include. Write down keywords for why you include them next to the title of the source. Start with a solid thesis. Remember that history is subjective and strongly nuanced. Show these nuances in the sources you choose to include in your answer. Guide your exam grader through your thesis with clear topic sentences and thoroughly explain why you referred to a specific historian or source. Do NOT just name drop. Aim for about five sources in each answer.
  • Split the time equally between your questions.
  • Be confident. Let that confidence permeate your answers.
  • Celebrate completing “Comps!” These exams are a huge accomplishment and try not to worry while you are awaiting your results. Some students receive them faster than others, but a slower result does not mean that you performed poorly. Remain confident! Worrying will not affect the outcome either way.


These suggestions are just a guide to hopefully ease the process of studying and taking

“Comps” based on my experience with them. With that said, you should always study in your most personalized and effective way possible. I welcome any questions and comments from current students about my experience and how I studied more specifically for my concentration of Women and Gender. Good luck to all future examinees!

Reviewed: The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand

According to Louis Menand, modern America’s birth can be traced to the Civil War. American culture, politics, and philosophy were swept away by the brutality and tragedy of the Civil War; the fighting of North versus South utterly “discredited the beliefs and assumptions of the era that preceded it” and it would take “nearly half a century for the United States to develop a culture to replace it, find a new set of ideas, and way of thinking that would help people cope with the conditions of modern life.”1 In The Metaphysical Club, Menand focuses on the endeavor of antebellum American intellectuals to craft a new way of thinking that made sense after the United States was torn asunder. Menand examines Oliver Wendell Holmes, William James, Charles S. Peirce, and John Dewey and the intellectual, political, and social cultures that formed them and their thought systems. In doing so, he argues that the four men had in common “an idea about ideas.”2 This was the birth of American pragmatism—an idea that ideas themselves are social tools that must be adaptable to survive. After watching their family and friends die horrible deaths in a war fought over unwavering beliefs about the institution of slavery, these four thought leaders decided that “ideas should never become ideologies” and produced a new skepticism to help their generation deal with the new United States of America.3

Menand divides his book into five parts. The first four each explore one of the men the book focuses on. The final section weaves these men’s philosophical systems together to examine their thoughts on pragmatism, pluralism, and freedom. In his investigation of Holmes, James, Peirce, and Dewey, Menand takes the long view. Rather than beginning by closely examining each man’s philosophical tenets, Menand crafts a multi-faceted, nuanced picture of the social, political, cultural, and intellectual atmosphere Holmes, James, Peirce, and Dewey existed in. Menand presents an in-depth analysis of every possible philosophical forefather, including Hegel, Kant, and Emerson. Beyond these intellectual giants, Menand also examines men forgotten by popular history who were hugely influential in the lives of the book’s subjects. For example, in the section on William James, there is an entire chapter on Louis Agassiz, one of James’s teachers. It is not until the following chapter that Menand inspects James and Agassiz’s relationship and their shared experience of a research trip to Brazil. This method of completely exploring even the minutiae of thinkers adjacent to Holmes, James, Peirce, and Dewey, (including how Agassiz’s first wife died and who his three children married) is what makes Menand’s work unique and objectively impressive.4

However, this is also what can, at times, make it so dense and convoluted. “Every relevant idea seemed equally important to him, and while he was composing he rarely glimpsed a path down which he was not tempted to wander.”5 This is Menand describing Charles Peirce’s writing style; however, it could easily describe Menand’s own. Menand’s nuanced and prolific knowledge of antebellum American thought culture is decidedly impressive, and context is key to truly understanding how these thinkers came to construct their philosophies. However, Menand’s overarching argument often gets lost in a sea of context. Usually only the last ten or twenty pages of a section are spent discussing Holmes, James, Peirce, or Dewey’s actual ideas; the rest of the section is devoted to intensely detailed explorations of the major thinkers, social and political happenings, and personal influences in these men’s lives. Occasionally, as in the “Chicago” chapter, Menand strikes the perfect balance between context, philosophy, and analysis. This happens because, rather than attempting to explain an entire generation’s philosophical background, he explores one specific event in American history—in this case, the Pullman Strike. The Metaphysical Club would have benefited from better organization and a paring down of contextual information. Menand understandably wanted to produce a rich and textured portrait of Holmes, James, Peirce, and Dewey and the American philosophy they contributed to. However, at times the texture became so overwhelming that the portrait’s subject became lost.

The most successful biographical forays in The Metaphysical Club are sequestered in the beginning of the book. Menand does excellent historical work exploring Oliver Wendell Holmes’s experiences with the Civil War. Using primarily correspondence between Holmes, who fought in the war for three years, and his family, Menand skillful traces the philosophical arc Holmes travels from passionate Harvard student willing to forgo graduation to enlist to a demoralized man fatigued from carnage resulting from two sides with opposing ideologies.6 As Gerald Linderman shows in Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War, this was an arc traveled by many soldiers in the conflict. However, unfortunately Menand does not reference much historiography of the Civil War or any following American historical events; rather, he presents a narrative of U.S. history and relies heavily on primary sources to draw larger conclusions. Ironically, by doing so, he fails to create an academic context for the history he examines. Ultimately, because Menand’s underlying argument is that the Civil War gave birth to American pragmatism, this section on Holmes is especially successful at making his point. The extensive use of primary sources artfully supports his argument that the conflict had a profound effect on American thought. Unfortunately, in the following sections on James, Peirce, and Dewey, the Civil War’s effects fade into the background.

Where The Metaphysical Club truly comes into its own is the final section with chapters on “Pragmatisms,” “Pluralisms,” and “Freedoms.” Here, Menand synthesizes the information he spends over three hundred pages laying out. He skillfully explains the complex thought systems of Holmes, James, Peirce, and Dewey complete with accessible, clear examples. For example, he demonstrates James’s theory of causation with the idea of a chicken in a box attempting to figure out how to open the box’s door that leads to pellets. Our actions that lead to a result may not be the actual cause because we cannot know everything about the forces of the universe. If a chicken makes a special cluck while pressing the button that opens the door, he may think the cluck is the cause for the door opening, not the button. But, according to Menand, James argues that causation may not exist and even if it does, we have no reason to care. What we should care about is that we get results; we get the pellets. Menand explains these complex philosophical concepts deftly, with simple examples that succinctly and cogently translate the (perhaps unfamiliar to the casual reader) thoughts of Holmes, James, Peirce, and Dewey.

In his Epilogue, Menand concludes that “Holmes, James, Peirce and Dewey wished to bring ideas and principles and beliefs down to a human level because they wished to avoid the violence they saw hidden in abstractions. This was one of the lessons the Civil War had taught them.”7 He points out that this intent to avoid ideology can seem familiar to the post-Cold War individual, but that it was “almost unimaginably strange” in the nineteenth century.8 Menand’s depth of knowledge on the intellectual, social, and political culture of pre- and antebellum America is staggering and he endeavors to craft a complete picture of how Holmes, James, Peirce and Dewey came to their ground-breaking philosophy of pragmatism. At times, one cannot see the philosophical forest for the contextual trees. However, The Metaphysical Club is an impressively comprehensive examination of how historical events gave birth to an entirely new way of thinking. Menand’s expertise at breaking down and explaining complex philosophical thoughts with many intellectual forefathers is exceptional, and this work is both accessible for the casual reader and weighty enough for the intellectual scholar.

1 Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001): x.

2 Menand, The Metaphysical Club, xi.

3 Menand, The Metaphysical Club, xii.

4 Menand, The Metaphysical Club, 99.

5 Menand, The Metaphysical Club, 275.

6 Menand, The Metaphysical Club, 56.

7 Menand, The Metaphysical Club, 440.

8 Menand, The Metaphysical Club, 442.

Reviewed: Personal Politics

personal politics


Evans, Sara. Personal Politics: The Roots of Women’s Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979. Pp.274.


The 1960s and 1970s were a time of high political activism among men and women in the United States. The Civil Rights Movement, Anti-War Movement, and Women’s Movement were all advocating for change in domestic and international policies within overlapping timeframes. While most people tend to focus on the history of each movement separately, Sara Evans explored the complex interconnectedness of the three movements in 1979. Her book Personal Politics: The Roots of Women’s Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left. Evans not only focused on the way the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s influenced each other, but she also involved the development of the New Left intellectual thinkers in the process. Evans’ book was published shortly after Women’s Studies programs were implemented on some college campuses across the United States (Evans, 227). The results of Evans’ research is an interdisciplinary study of how the Women’s Movement of the mid-1960s to the late 1970s was influenced by “a particular set of experiences in the southern civil rights movement and parts of the student new left”, which “catalyzed a new feminist consciousness” (Evans, 23). Evans’ work combines historical methodology with a political, cultural, and social theory to explain a multi-layered movement. She sets out to prove that the Women’s Movement came out of the Civil Rights Movement, was influenced by the New Left, and pushed boundaries and societal norms by giving women a stage to advocate for reforms in health care, employment, foreign policy, and education.

Evans’ methodology is that of a cultural historian. She focused on the understudied individuals within the formation of the Women’s Movement and how they attempted to change cultural norms in the society during the 1960s-1970s. In addition to focusing on understudied white women within the rise of 1970s’ feminism, she continuously mentioned women of color within both the Women’s and Civil Rights Movements. To conduct her research, Evans used primary sources from interviews she conducted in the early 1970s (Evans, 267). She relied on journals, newspapers, and articles from Fortune, Life, and The New York Times. Evans’ dedication to finding primary sources on the Women’s Movement included sorting through the papers of CORE and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), as both organizations affected the development of the Movement.

Evans’ extensive reliance on firsthand accounts supports her argument about the formation of the Women’s Movement. For every claim, she makes she uses an interview as evidence to the point where her work is riddled with block quotes that either illuminate a point or supply additional information and context for her thesis. The extensive use of block quotes is risky. Evans took part in the Movement in the late 1960s, but instead of relying on her own experience on the topic, she used long quotes from other women involved (Evans, ix-xi). This decision balanced out how she wrote about the history of the Movement. Her use of interviews demonstrated that her argument was not just based on her own bias, but instead is validated by similar opinions and experiences of those involved, such as Mary King, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Casey Hayden, and Gloria Steinem. The result is an even-handed history of the Women’s Movement.

Evans tells this story by recounting the history of women’s fight for equality in chronological order. She began in the 1830s with abolition to give historical context and set the stage for the tension in the 1960s. She focused on the work of the Grimke sisters, and the role religion played in bringing white southern women into the fight for racial equality (Evans, 26-29). By taking a chronological approach instead of thematic, Evans crafted a brief narrative for the history of a social movement. She organized each chapter by events that took place from 1963 to 1976 and how they affected the development of women’s activism. She begins in the Civil Rights Movement, primarily focusing on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Evans illustrates the sexism that grew within SNCC by pointing out, “Though both black and white women took on important administrative functions in the Atlanta office of SNCC, it was also true that virtually all typing and clerical work was assigned to women. Very few women assumed public roles of national leadership” (Evans, 76). Evans argues that this sexism and regulation of women to “feminine” tasks, as well as the focus on black power,  led to a split between white women and the Civil Rights Movement. According to Evans, it was the split from the Civil Rights Movement that led white women to strive for a more independent role than the societal norm of a housewife in the late 1960s.

While writing about women’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, Evans focused on the challenges white women met with in the 1960s. According to Evans, for women in the 1960s fighting against segregation, “the greatest obstacles to racial equality were the twin evils of race-baiting…and red-baiting” (Evans, 49). Evans connects race-baiting to the sexual objectification of white women’s roles within the Civil Right Movement by both black and white men and sometimes black women. Red-baiting was a tactic used by the public media and FBI to portray anything that pushed against the status quo of American capitalism as communist and in support of the Soviet Union. Evans used the testimony of white women such as Anne Braden gathered from interviews to support her claims concerning red-baiting and race-baiting. She identified additional challenges for white women such as disownment or disapproval by white society, verbal as well as physical violence, exclusion, and discrimination. The last two challenges were not only seen in the Civil Rights Movement but the development of the New Left.

Evans articulates that after white women distanced themselves from the Civil Rights Movement, due to the rise in black power rhetoric, they looked for other opportunities to change societal gender norms. She explains the next step for some women was through engagement with the New Left and in particular the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Evans claims, “This new left politics nourished the seeds of a new feminism.” (Evans, 105). She does add a disclaimer about how during the early years of the new left women were for the most point excluded from positions of leadership in organizations such as the SDS. She described the New Left as being made up of intellectual thinkers, usually students, during the Cold War who questioned the conventional idea of the United States as the “good guys.” Evans criticized the New Left for sexual discrimination against women. She stated, “The skills that were most valued in SDS promoted male leadership” and “frequently they [women] were important but invisible” (Evans, 111, 112). She points out that while SDS did perpetuate the sexual oppression of women, it also provided women with separate social spaces to discuss and debate their desire for independence in society (Evans, 220). Evans argues that being faced with intellectual discrimination in SDS inspired white women to create their movement around the idea of equality of the sexes. She explains that women used the organizational skills acquired from their work in the Civil Rights Movement and their experience in dialogue and writing learned during their engagement with the New Left to advocate for gender equality.

Evans carefully navigates through the two themes surrounding the creation of the Women’s Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. She pays homage to the involvement and interaction of white and black women within the Civil Rights Movement without pitting them against each other. She holds black men accountable for discrimination not only against white women but black women as well. Evans’ analysis of the Civil Rights Movement is in danger of coming off as arrogant to twenty-first-century historians. Her writing style unintentionally paints a picture in which white women are the victims of racial discrimination and displaced from their roles within the Civil Rights Movement when organizations such as SNCC chose to focus more on black activism instead of interracial cooperation. She does try to be fair with her critiques of the Civil Rights Movement. Evans attributes networking, organizational skills, and the initiation of the Women’s Movement to white women’s Civil Rights activism in the 1950s and 1960s (Evans, 212, 219-220).

Evans does write repetitively throughout her work. She returns to the split between white women and Civil Rights organizations such as SNCC continuously throughout the book. She repeatedly portrays white women as victims of sexual oppression throughout the 1960s almost to the point of redundancy. Additionally, Evans fills her argument with block quotes and makes it hard at times to discern between her ideas and those of her interviewees. While this shows a well-researched history of the Women’s Movement, it also makes it challenging for the reader to discern her opinion from the sea of testimonies and repetitive language. Evans work is not dangerous, just complicated. In 1979, it was groundbreaking. Her connections between racial, intellectual, and gendered movements are well crafted. By focusing on key themes such as red-baiting, the role of Marxism, and the FBI she can situate her topic within Cold War scholarship. Her focus on the development of the Women’s Movement from within the Civil Rights Movement illustrates how during the 1960s activism was interconnected. Evans adds another layer to Cold War study, and the relationship between social movements, domestic politics and foreign policy during the 1960s-1970s.

Behind Closed Doors: Architecture and Servitude at The Woodlands and Monticello

At first glance, The Woodlands and Monticello—and their respective owners—may seem to have little in common, other than that they both date to the early republic. The Woodlands is a compact, rectangular mansion, resting just above the Schuylkill River, in what is now West Philadelphia. This mansion and the surrounding estate was owned by William Hamilton (1745-1813), a gentleman of leisure who studiously avoided politics.[1] About two hundred and fifty miles south, on a high hill outside Charlottesville, Virginia, rests Monticello. The sprawling, domed mansion was the property of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson (1743-1826)—a planter and longtime politician, including, of course, delegate to the Continental Congress, besides serving as secretary of state and president of the United States.


Underlying the contrast between these two men and their houses, however, are several connecting strands. Hamilton and Jefferson shared a common status as part of the American elite of the early republic. In addition, they shared a common interest in botany and architecture, and fostered an acquaintance around these hobbies.[2] Jefferson designed Monticello, and Hamilton likely had a hand in the design of the Woodlands as well.[3] Their architectural involvement gives significance to the fact that both these houses contain features that veiled the presence of  the respective service people in each house. These common elements cross the boundary of north and south, free and slave, to show that it was the mentality of the early American elite that provided the guiding principles behind these features.


Revolving door at Monticello (Thomas Jefferson Foundation,


The architectural features under discussion are connected to the dining room at both The Woodlands and Monticello. First, consider the features in Thomas Jefferson’s mansion:

“Jefferson installed two devices to traverse the space between…two realms…The first, a hoisting machine…carried spirits from the wine cellar up through shafts on either side of the dining room chimney….The second device, a door that appeared as others in the room yet was mounted on a central pivot that turned at a touch to reveal on its other face a set of semicircular shelves laden with dishes.”[4]

Two features are present, each of which allowed service in the dining room to be accomplished without the physical presence of a servant in the room. Food and wine could be delivered to the room without showing a servant’s face. As the designer of his own house, and an amateur inventor, Jefferson certainly installed these elements for a specific purpose.[5]

service door

Service stair and door to dining room at The Woodlands (Library of Congress,


But Jefferson was not the only man in early America who wished to keep his servants out of sight in the dining room. At William Hamilton’s Woodlands, there were features to a similar purpose:

“The passage extending between the vestibule and the dining room is flanked by the service stair on the south and, originally, a pantry on the north[.] [B]oth spaces are accessed by means of doors bearing [a] simple paneling arrangement. East of these door there are two similarly paneled doors which, when open, fold back flush into the wall. When closed, they form an uninterrupted, though temporary, staging area for servants—giving them easy access to the cellar, the pantry, and the dining room without being seen.”[6]

The features at The Woodlands are less substantial than at Monticello. A simple strategic design and placement of doors shut out the servants’ activities in the hall while a meal was in progress in the dining room. At this house, a servant still had to physically enter the room to serve. But a similar principle underlies this door system and the features at Monticello. Although it is unknown how much of a role Hamilton had in designing these doors, he evidently had them installed in the course of having his house built.


The similarity of purpose in the features of these two houses becomes more significant when one considers the type of service present in the respective houses. In regards to Monticello, “servant” is a euphemism; the people who served Monticello’s dining room were slaves. At The Woodlands, though some of Hamilton’s servants were black, no extent records suggest that any of them were slaves.[7] This means that the underlying purpose of these features had nothing to do with the servitude status of the people they sought to conceal.


What, then, was the purpose behind these features? The answer seems to lie in the mutual status and outlook of the two men responsible for having these features installed. Both Hamilton and Jefferson went to great lengths to turn their estates into masterpieces of architecture and landscape.[8] As part of an upper class that relied on projecting an image, they worked to make house and grounds appear pristine, and the servants—whether slave of otherwise—were not meant to be part of the scenery.[9] When Hamilton and Jefferson held a dinner, they were engaging in a similar process that called for keeping servants out of sight.[10] In addition, keeping servants out of the room allowed for enlightened conversation to go on, both without pause, and without worrying that the ideas might reach the ears of those for whom they were not meant.[11]


The wine pulley and revolving door, and the door system, are not the only common elements at The Woodlands and Monticello. For instance, both houses have underground passageways that were accessed by servants. A much fuller comparison of the two houses and their masters would prove a fascinating study. But the features examined here provide a glimpse of the connection that existed among the elite of the early republic. The architectural choices of the upper class had much more to do with the outlook they had, than with the any aspect of their service people. The servants at The Woodlands and Monticello were thus also connected, if not by common status, by the common experience of being mutually shut out from the dining room, and doing their work behind closed doors.




[1] Catherine E. Kelly, Republic of Taste: Art, Politics, and Everyday Life in Early America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 120-122.

[2] Kelly, 140-141.

[3] James A. Jacobs, “Addendum to The Woodlands,” HABS No. PA-1125. (Historic American Buildings Survey [HABS]) (National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2002), 6-8.

[4] Alice Gray Read, “Monticello’s Dumbwaiters,” Journal of Architectural Education (1984-) 48, no. 3 (1995), 171-172.

[5] Read, 168.

[6] Jacobs, “Addendum,” 63.

[7] This according to research conducted by The Woodlands Historic Site.

[8] Richard J. Betts, “The Woodlands,” Winterthur Portfolio 14, no. 3 (1979)., 217-219; Read, 168-174.

[9] Kelly, 138; James A. Jacobs, “William Hamilton and the Woodlands: A Construction of Refinement in Philadelphia,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 130, no. 2 (2006), 35, 200-201.

[10] Read, 168-174; Jacobs, 197-200.

[11] Read, 168.


Sources and Further Reading

Betts, Richard J. “The Woodlands.” Winterthur Portfolio 14, no. 3 (1979): 213-34.

Jacobs, James A. “William Hamilton and the Woodlands: A Construction of Refinement in Philadelphia.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 130, no. 2 (2006). 181-209.

“          ” . “Addendum to The Woodlands.” HABS No. PA-1125. (Historic American Buildings Survey [HABS]). National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2002.

Kelly, Catherine E. Republic of Taste: Art, Politics, and Everyday Life in Early America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.

Madsen, Karen. “To Make His Country Smile: William Hamilton’s Woodlands.” Arnoldia 49, no. 2 (1989): 14-24.

“Monticello Dining Room.” Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Accessed April 29, 2018.

“Monticello, State Route 53 Vicinity, Charlottesville, Charolottesville, VA.” Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) VA-241.

Read, Alice Gray. “Monticello’s Dumbwaiters.” Journal of Architectural Education (1984-) 48, no. 3 (1995): 168-75.

Stetson, Sarah P. “William Hamilton and His “Woodlands.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 73, no. 1 (1949).

Ghosts of York, South Carolina

York, SC #1Downtown York, SC

           Last month I returned to South Carolina for the memorial service of my first English literature professor from my undergraduate days, and saying goodbye to an old friend tends to put me into a contemplative mood. As such and since I had a little while before I needed to return to Pennsylvania, I thought I would take a short trip to where I spent the first five years of my life – York, SC – to just see it again. In truth, I haven’t been back there since I left it twenty years ago so I wanted to see if I could stir up any long-forgotten feelings or memories. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems as if almost everything in the South is haunted in some way, perhaps especially so with regards to its people, so I guess I was just curious to see if those old ghosts still sound the same. But this is a history blog so first some background on York, South Carolina.

The area that is called York today was originally inhabited by Cherokee and Catawba native groups until the 1750s when English, German, and Scots-Irish settlers — mainly from Pennsylvania – began to settle there, and two roads, one leading from Rutherfordton, North Carolina to Camden, South Carolina, and the other from Charlotte, North Carolina to Augusta, Georgia, met at a crossroads at the future site of the town. (Fun fact: The road that led from Rutherfordton to Camden is today called Liberty Street, on which I used to live.) Like any good Scottish folks would do, basically the first thing that was built in the area was a tavern, owned by the Fergus brothers, William and John. Thus, York began its life as Fergus’s Crossroads, and in 1785 was officially established as the county of York, with Yorkville (today simply called York) as its county seat. (Side note: The area that became York County after the American Revolution was the only part of South Carolina in which British forces did not win a single battle, and if you ask people in York, they’ll often tell you that the Revolution was won there in the South Carolina backcountry.)

York, SC #2Fergus’s Crossroads Historical Marker

          The early nineteenth century was good to the white residents of York and the region became a major cotton growing center, with access to the central rail line in the area completed in 1852. Additionally, in 1860 York became the first town in the South Carolina Upcountry to have gas streetlights. Most white residents of York were supportive of secession before the Civil War, and many of them fought for the Confederacy during the conflict, with York having one of the highest per capita casualty rates in South Carolina. There were no actual battles fought in York during the war though. The South’s defeat and the ending of slavery did not go over well in South Carolina generally and York especially, and by 1868 York already had its own branch of the Ku Klux Klan, determined to drive out carpetbaggers, Republicans, and to maintain white supremacy. However, the election of 1870 granted significant victories to Republicans, owing to South Carolina’s large black population, which set off widespread violence perpetrated by the Klan all over York and the surrounding counties. In fact, York saw the most Klan terrorism in 1870 and 1871 of any other region in South Carolina as roughly 300 violent incidents were reported  in just the first half of 1871 alone. After the passage of the 15th Amendment and the Ku Klux Klan Act in 1870 and 1871 respectively, President Ulysses Grant sent federal troops to end the violence in South Carolina and secure the voting rights of African-Americans, and since York was at the center of all the unrest, that’s where the federal forces set up their base camp. Grant suspended the writ of habeas corpus in South Carolina, and in York there were so many white people arrested that there wasn’t enough room in all the jails to hold them.

For some perspective, the U.S. government estimated in 1873 that 831 people were indicted in South Carolina from 1870 to 1871 with 195 of those just in York County. Additionally, 200 suspected Klansmen fled York altogether and 500 turned themselves in but since the federal and state authorities were so overwhelmed were released without being brought to trial. Grant’s use of federal troops and the ensuing court prosecutions (though only a small percentage of suspected Klansmen were actually found guilty) effectively broke the Klan’s hold over South Carolina, but violence against black South Carolinians continued in less organized ways. Today, a historical marker near the Allison Creek Presbyterian Church honoring Elias Hill, a formerly enslaved man who became a Baptist minister and who was physically disabled yet still tortured by the Ku Klux Klan, stands as the first and to my knowledge only memorial to the victims of Klan violence in South Carolina.

York, SC #3Elias Hill Historical Marker

            During the twentieth century, York was mostly known for producing textiles, but in the early twenty-first century many of those companies left the area and today current residents often find work either in Charlotte, North Carolina, or Rock Hill, South Carolina. The city’s population as of 2017 was 8,058 with 58% being white and 35% being black.

So back to my story, I used to live in front of an old Confederate cemetery, and I remember squeezing through the fence in my back yard, pushing my way past the vines and shrubs that obscured the view of the cemetery from my house, and jumping over this little ditch that was the last obstacle that needed to be faced if one wanted to play amongst the graves. Much to my delight, when I went back to the cemetery I found the little section that I would cross into from my back yard largely the same as I remember it, and the big magnolia tree that I used to like to sit under is still there. Thankfully, another thing I remember from those days was always getting stung by fire-ants, and this time I managed to avoid any of them.

York, SC #4Rose Hill Cemetery (photo by author)

            Yet, as much as I enjoyed my short nostalgic trip, seeing the large Confederate monument in front of the cemetery reminds me of all the suffering that took place in York after the Civil War and is still mostly glossed over today. Even Elias Hill’s marker doesn’t expound upon the level of violence that was inflicted on black residents of York over the years, and you would never know of the city’s prominent role in the Klan’s terrorism during Reconstruction from just walking around its historical district. As such, being back in that cemetery gave me an uneasy feeling that I never had walking around it when I was five, but I’m glad I went back. I suppose that since my own story started in York, I’ve got a vested interest in understanding its history as best I can, especially its worst parts, and I like to hope that one day a more complete account of York’s history will be available to its people, and maybe the ghosts of so many innocent victims of white supremacist violence won’t have to haunt York anymore.


Allison, Anne T. “History of York.” Yorkville Historical Society.
Hill, Elias. “Elias Hill Testifies About the Ku Klux Klan before a Congressional Committee.” Report of the Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States (Washington, 1872).
Lee, Eddie. “The White Rose City: A Brief History Of York, S.C.”
Reynolds, Michael S. “York.” South Carolina Encyclopedia.
“South Carolina Ku Klux Klan Trials: 1871-1872.”
“The Trial and Tribulations of the South Carolina Ku Klux Klan.” The History Engine. University of Richmond.
“York, South Carolina.” United States Census Bureau.,yorkcountysouthcarolina/PST045217.

Thanks for coming! 1968: Philly and the World

The event at the Historical Society of Philadelphia was a great success! We had a great turnout throughout the day for each of the four panels, with riveting discussions, questions, arguments and tangents to boot. A massive thanks and round of applause to all of the panel experts who graciously gave of their time, expertise, and research findings. Their discussion truly made the panels on Sports, Music, War and Protest engaging.

Thanks to all of the graduate students who showed up to work the event and see the panels. And of course where would we be with out the staff at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania who help guide, plan, and inform guests throughout their stay (you guys are the real MVPS).

Special shout out to:

Jason Steinhauer, Director, Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest, Villanova University and event organizer.

Beth Twiss-Houting, Senior Director of Programs and Services, Historical Society of Pennsylvania and event organizer

Holly Stupak, Administrative Specialist, and event organizer

Paul Steege, Faculty Director, Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest & Associate Professor of History, Villanova University, and War Panel moderator and event organizer

Margaret Strolle, Villanova History Graduate Student, History Communication Fellow and event organizer

Claire Hoffman, Villanova History undergraduate Student, History Communication Fellow and event organizer

Marc Gallicchio, Chairperson and Professor of History, Villanova University, and War Panel participant.

And of course thanks to everyone who came out on Friday! It was a pleasure to meet, listen to the presentations,  get excited about primary sources, share a meal, and engage critically with 1968, Philly and the global connections this city and that time fostered.

Missed out on the action? Check out our photos from the event below!

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