Culture Change and the New Technology: An Archaeology of the Early American Industrial Era

By Ryder, Robin L. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Summer 1997 | Go to article overview

Culture Change and the New Technology: An Archaeology of the Early American Industrial Era


Ryder, Robin L., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Culture Change and the New Technology: An Archaeology of the Early American Industrial Era. By PAUL A. SHACKEL. Contributions to Global Historical Archaeology. CHARLES E. ORSER, JR., Series Editor. New York and London: Plenum Press, 1996. xix, 217 pp. $37.50.

PAUL A. SHACKEL applies Marxist theory to a study of the relations between armorers and supervisors at Harpers Ferry. Using historical documents detailing the history of the armory and the town, he provides a context in which the domestic lives of workers and management are compared. Shackel contends that as workers lost control of their means of production as a result of increasing industrialization, new, inherently unequal domestic relations were also established. These new relations were expressed on the domestic front as a change in consumer behavior that Shackel illustrates through analysis of the archaeological assemblages recovered from the two sites.

Shackel reviews the history of the armory at Harpers Ferry, detailing the changes in the relations between management and armorers as emphasis shifted from the individual production of each firearm to mass production of firearms using interchangeable parts. Armorers, who had originally been craftsmen, were gradually turned into deskilled laborers, and the way in which they were compensated changed. Craftsmen-armorers had been paid by the completed piece and had control over earnings (by adjusting the number of pieces completed), number of hours worked each day, and location where they carried out their tasks. Deskilled wage laborers were expected to work on the armory grounds for a specific number of hours each day at a specified rate of pay, and rules governing conduct while at work were posted. The resultant loss of individual identity led to the rise of a new way of expressing individuality via the purchase of mass-produced goods. Shackel thus chronicles the development of a Romantic consumerism for the middle class, or supervisory personnel, at the armory and a resistance to this new product of industrialization on the part of armory workers.

Using archaeological assemblages recovered from armory worker housing, he illustrates the loss over time of control over the means and location of production. …

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