Hamline News

Digging Up the Past

digging article

In 1925 the Hamline United Methodist Church burned to the ground. Eighty-three years later, the church is bringing the community together again.

College of Liberal Arts anthropology professor Brian Hoffman led an archeological dig this fall, working with students and the community to excavate the area where the old church once stood.

In addition to learning about archeological exploration and helping conduct the dig, students in the class had to create and execute a project related to their academic interests. Natalie Self ’09, an English and social justice major, looked at funding sources and researched different foundations to find out what grants they could apply for. She also served as a resource to the community, sharing information and photos.

“The dig really brought the community together. Years from now, people can continue to go back and do more digging,” Self said.

The eighteen other students in the class completed a wide variety of projects. A chemistry major worked on the chemical analysis of the soil, an English major wrote stories about the dig for media coverage, and a theatre major wrote a play based on the excavation. Archival research was completed by a history major, and thanks to the efforts of an elementary education major, students from Hancock-Hamline University Collaborate Magnet School had the chance to participate in the dig.

Community members were also invited to help in the excavation.

“[It was] really great to share in what the students were doing,” said Krista Findstad Hanson of the Hamline-Midway History Core. “It’s important to connect neighbors with the Hamline community.”

When the students and Hoffman began the dig, they hoped to find the church’s organ—a vital part of the church that brought the community together to enjoy its music. They also wanted to find stained glass from the rose-colored windows and artifacts such as the dishes that were used in the church.

“We study the real mundane aspects of people’s lives—in some ways it’s more satisfying because we are able to connect with the people,” said Hoffman.

Unfortunately, the class didn’t find the organ, but they did find stained glass, ceramic and metal cups, and ceramic tile pieces that might have been used by the women’s group for formal dinners.

Everything found in the dig was cleaned and cataloged. The students plan to lay out the glass to see if they can figure out the patterns and learn more about the history behind them. The turnout for the class was greater than Hoffman anticipated, and he plans to offer the opportunity to more students in future years, perhaps tracking down the early train depots in the Hamline community.

The dig was an inspiration to aspiring teacher Caleb Belgard ’09.

“It was amazing to see the interaction of the class to the project—everyone really came together to accomplish a common goal,” he said. The dig “definitely made [me] decide I want to teach someday.”

By: Jeana Blomme