Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Kenneth G Kelly


This dissertation examines the formation of commodity landscapes that manifested between 1870 and 1930 at the Mann-Simons site, a collection of commercial and domestic spaces in downtown Columbia, South Carolina, owned and operated by the same African American family from the mid-nineteenth century to 1970. Primary data comes from archaeological excavations at the site. Through a lens of commodities production and consumption, I tell three stories of the family and property using a variety of theoretical tools, including discourse materialized, hybridity, object mediation, and thick description. By considering, in turn, the same set of archaeologically-recovered objects from three distinct vantage points - consumption, production, and heritage - the Mann-Simons site illuminates how commodity landscapes shaped, and were shaped by, discourses at myriad scales and how these landscapes mediated practice and knowledges. The first story is one of production, telling a story of the social lives of things understood independently of the practices of the family. I demonstrate how discourses of health and sanitation linked objects from linoleum to brightly-colored walls; how home electrification influenced the materials of which buttons were made; and how the application of the predictive commodity flow model is useful for understanding alternative market interactions. The second story, one of consumption, is a story of object biographies. I demonstrate that through an understanding of object mediation and ideas of technology, the Mann-Simons family at the turn of the twentieth century was using the emerging world of commodities to tie themselves into a desired future trajectory, one that would become mainstream by the 1930s: commodities as the path to modernity. The final story is one of heritage. I suggest that museums are social-material hybrids that mediate visitors' conceptions of authenticity, knowledge, and history. At the Mann-Simons site, this hybridity shaped the meaning and significance of this site-turned-house museum over the past forty-years. I further examine the role of archaeology within and for various publics and present a framework for integrating critical and empirical archaeologies. I conclude with an examination of my meta-question: what is the value of archaeologies of the recent past?