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Ashley Atkins Spivey Receives Kathleen Kirk Gilmore Dissertation Award

From the Society for Historical Archaeology: 

The Kathleen Kirk Gilmore Dissertation Award is presented to a recent graduate whose dissertation is considered an outstanding contribution to historical archaeology. Evaluations are based on the criteria that a dissertation can make “outstanding” contributions in three areas: (1) developing, refining, or applying new and innovative theoretical ideas; (2) developing new methodological tools or applying existing methods in new and innovative ways; or (3) by contributing to the culture history of an area or region that is little known archaeologically. An “outstanding” dissertation would make significant contributions in one or all of these areas and have implications for a large and diverse audience. The Gilmore evaluation panel used these criteria to evaluate the 20 dissertations submitted for the 2020 award. This was challenging given the number of excellent dissertations that were reviewed, which dealt with topics and contexts representing the full range of contemporary global historical archaeology. The 2020 Gilmore Dissertation award winner is Ashley Atkins Spivey, for her dissertation, completed at the College of William & Mary in 2017, "Knowing the River, Working the Land, and Digging for Clay: Pamunkey Indian Subsistence Practices and the Market Economy 1800 ‒ 1900.” Professor Martin Gallivan supervised Ashley’s dissertation work. Dr. Spivey’s dissertation is an Indigenous archaeological study that uncovers an overlooked Native history in Tidewater Virginia. Her project centers on Pamunkey Indian life and Pamunkey experience during a period – the nineteenth century – often ignored by scholars of Virginia’s past. The Pamunkey are descendants of the Powhatan, the Native group that encountered European explorers and then colonists at the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth centuries. The Pamunkey have occupied reservation lands since the middle of the seventeenth

Dr. Spivey’s study traces Pamunkey tribal members’ responses to the encroachment of market-based capitalism and wage labor in Tidewater Virginia during the nineteenth century. Her point of departure is the Buck site, a nineteenth-century Colonoware pottery production center and the location of a female-headed household. Dr. Spivey directed the excavations at the site, incorporating members of the Pamunkey community and practices of both Indigenous and scientific archaeology. Her research combined the results of these excavations with extensive oral histories gathered from Pamunkey tribal members and a detailed assessment of the archival record. From this evidence, Dr. Spivey concluded that the labor practices of the Pamunkey capitalized on a familiarity with the river and knowledge of the land. The Pamunkey’s knowledge systems allowed them to survive as a Native community in a region and at a time where group identity and personal mobility were becoming increasingly radicalized. Whether manifested in the practices of male hunting guides or of female potters, a key to this resilience was a deep knowledge of the landscape. One reviewer noted that the discussion of the various strategies used by the Pamunkey to adapt to an emerging capitalist economy was particularly effective and that the discussion of the different ways males and females were affected was intriguing. The same reviewer noted that Dr. Spivey did an excellent job in her discussion of Pamunkey colonoware production and added strong evidence for the native production side of the colonoware African American versus native production debate that has raged in Virginia for so long.
Dr. Spivey both draws upon and critiques contemporary social theory, acknowledging her struggle to identify a scholarly framework that foregrounds Pamunkey experiences and perspectives. She ultimately chose to draw upon a political economy framework in an effort to avoid re-marginalizes marginalized subjects while making room for the multi-scalar intersections that shaped post- colonial experience on the Pamunkey reservation. Her analysis brings into conversation ideas from World Systems Theory with analysis of Indigenous
systems of knowledge.

As a member of the Pamunkey tribe, Dr. Spivey brings an insider’s perspective to this work. In the final analysis, her work reveals the history, life, and experiences of a tribe at a pivotal moment in American history, and it shows how a Native scholar uses archaeology to tell a narrative with Native people at the center rather than on the periphery. One of the reviewers noted that the lives of the Pamunkey were made immediate through her prose. In the process of completing this work, Dr. Spivey developed a model of Indigenous archaeology that has already changed contemporary practices in the region. In 2016, near the completion of her dissertation project, the Pamunkey Tribe was formally recognized by the federal government, and she has helped to
build the basic institutions required of a sovereign tribe.

In short, Ashley is a Native scholar and a tribal leader with a unique set of skills and experiences. Her dissertation crosses boundaries between archaeology, ethnography, and history through a focus on Native responses to colonialism beyond the moment of “contact.” She is a leader in the small but growing cohort of Native scholars in the Middle Atlantic region who are challenging the ways we construct narratives about Native peoples, past and present.