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NKU’s work at Parker Academy excavation site draws attention to collaborations, critical social issues

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Prof. Sharyn Jones and student D. Lantz at the site.  (Photo by student Eric Goetz

Dr. Sharyn Jones and student D. Lantz at the site. (Photo by student Eric Goetz)

Northern Kentucky University’s excavation of Ohio’s first co-ed, racially-integrated school has resumed this summer in collaboration with international scholar Dr. Peggy Brunache, who has been awarded a prestigious Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Foundation fellowship to help advance the project.
 
In May 2015, NKU faculty and students began the first-ever excavation of the Parker Academy site, located in New Richmond, Oh.

The artifacts unearthed and documents uncovered are eventually destined for a permanent exhibit at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.

Peggy Brunch

Peggy Brunache

“I am delighted to be able to return to Northern Kentucky University to help continue and advance this important work,” Brunache said. “Parker Academy was a beacon of light in a dark time in American history, and it is important to bring its lessons to light once again.”

Brunache is an international expert in historical archaeology and slavery, and a senior collaborator on the Parker Academy project. Last September, she supervised a dig at the site and led educational events at NKU and the Freedom Center regarding the international significance of the project. She is an instructor at the University of Dundee in Scotland.
 
Over the coming year, Brunache will supervise excavations at the site; oversee the archival work of connecting historical documents to the artifacts unearthed; and work with experts at the Freedom Center to build the permanent exhibit. She will also develop outreach and preservation efforts to help pave the way for the site to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
 
This is the first time NKU has received support from the Ford Foundation, an initiative of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Just 20 Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowships are awarded each year.
 
“We are thankful that the Ford Foundation recognizes the significance of this project and the expertise that Peggy brings,” said Dr. Sharyn Jones, chair of NKU’s Sociology, Anthropology and Philosophy Department. “We hope to expand the international nature of the work, while also strengthening the community’s connections to the project.”

Dr. Jones says that the Parker Academy project is an incredibly deep collaborative effort — in the region, across the U.S. and internationally.

“These efforts bring attention to our work as well as to the critical social issues of race, slavery and the struggle for freedom,” Jones says.

“The Parker Academy is important historically and it is unique locally because it created a social and ideological space for freedom and resistance to inequality and racism. Education was foundational to the efforts of this intentional community of resistance. The people involved in running the academy and the students who attended it went out in the world and worked to change the way that people viewed equality and social justice. They made many important social connections and helped to shift the dominant beliefs of the time.”

Parker Academy dig.

Parker Academy dig.

As an educator, Jones says, she is excited about two aspects of the work: Watching students learn and learning from them.

“One hundred and twenty-seven years after the Parker Academy closed its doors (in 1889), the ideology of social justice and equality is being spread again from our region, and students are playing a part in uncovering and interpreting a story of resistance that is profoundly important to American history,” Jones says.

“We are exploring the story of anti-slavery and social justice during the 19th century and prior to the Civil War but we want people to understand that this is not just the story of benevolent abolitionists who helped free and educate enslaved (or formerly enslaved) peoples,” she says. “Free blacks and African American communities were just as important in this history — the Parker Academy archaeology and archival resources provide a window into this process.

“We aim to reconstruct the historical context of the Parker Academy using multiple lines of evidence (archaeology, archival data, and narratives) and our interactions with the community in New Richmond are key to the work as well.”

Last year, work on the project focused upon retrieving artifacts from the site and organizing the historical papers on loan from the Parker Family Archive.
 
That work continues, but the project’s focus will now move toward putting a human face on the Parker Academy by using those artifacts and documents to tell the stories of specific individuals who lived and worked there. Brunache will help shape those efforts.
 
“The more we find, the more special and unique we realize this place really was,” said Dr. Brian Hackett, director of NKU’s Public History Program. “We want to collect these stories and make them human.”
 
NKU faculty and students are also using 21st century storytelling techniques to showcase their work on the project through an Instagram account, @ParkerAcademyDig, as well as a blog: parkeracademy.wordpress.com.

From NKU and NKyTribune Staff reports
 

Student and faculty at the site.  (Photo by Eric Goetz)

Student and faculty at the site. (Photo by Eric Goetz)

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