Hamline News

Archaeology Class Digs into Video


In the spring of 2020, Anthropology Professor Brian Hoffman knew that his fall class “Excavating Hamline History” would go forward despite COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Archaeologists were considered essential workers and much of the class work could continue outdoors safely.

For the fall 2020 class, Hoffman had selected a site near what used to be the corner of Hewitt and Simpson Avenue. Dubbed the 830 Simpson Site, the now grassy field held the University President’s house in the mid-twentieth century, but earlier a family home where Hamline students and others boarded occupied the site. In 1917, Hamline University purchased the home and converted it to an auxiliary dorm. The timing of this conversion to a dormitory -- around when the world faced the last major global pandemic -- made 830 Simpson particularly ripe for investigation during 2020.

Hoffman framed his class around two questions: What would you ask Hamline students in 1918 and what would you tell the students of 2120? The questions guided historic research and class discussion. Other work focused on the practice of public archaeology and included excavating, note taking, labwork, and educating students at Hamline Elementary School. COVID-19 restrictions forced Hoffman to change to the long-standing class structure.

Hoffman’s student teams had to maintain a six-foot distance from each other, which was hard while digging and excavating a small trench. Also, because the elementary students were learning remotely, they could not visit the site as they had in years past, which made the collaboration with them a challenge. Like many other educators during this time, the Piper archaeology teams created videos that the elementary students could watch asychronously.

“Videos allowed us to keep the public component of this archaeology project and kept all the students involved,” said Hoffman.

“It was fun to work in small teams and compare what we were finding with the other two teams in the class,” said third-year student Kaia Ziegler. “I also really enjoyed working with the elementary students and being able to engage with people outside of our Hamline community.”

Making the videos was integrated into the class structure and appealed to students.

“Making the videos affected the class experience for me and allowed me to see it as more of an outsider thinking about how cool all of the stuff that we do, instead of thinking about it as just digging,” said Cecelia Miller, a third-year Hamline student.

“I felt like I got to see the creative side of my classmates which is not typical for all courses and definitely not what I expected out of this course,” said Ziegler.

The class teams created four videos for Hamline Elementary students: What is Archaeology?; Digging and Mapping; Screening and Making Inferences; and What Happens in the Lab. They are all available on YouTube.

For her final project, Miller created a video about the Simpson Site.

“We all had to pick something that we wanted to dive deeper into as a final project so I chose to do a video series as that is where my interests and talents lie,” said Miller. “I really do enjoy filming and editing, and I love being able to share the information from the class to the broader community.”

For Hoffman, the semester was a success.

“I had to rethink the course objectives and approach for this time when the students faced off-the-chart challenges, and it worked well,” said Hoffman.

Excavating Hamline History began in 2004 and has been taught seven times since. The popular class fulfills Hamline Plan lab requirement and draws students from all majors. Classes have conducted digs at various sites in and around the campus. After excavating sites, students head to the lab in Giddens Learning Center to clean and catalog objects that they find.

“Each one of these excavations added new insight into the history of our school and this community,” said Hoffman.

Read more about the Hamline Village History Project on Professor Hoffman’s Blog.

Written by staff.