Researching AUM – Kimberly Pyszka digs into the past

Kimberly Pyszka in her office with one of the old tenant farmer houses on her computer screen. In front of the screen on the desk, fragments of 18th century stoneware found in the cellar of a 300 year old South Carolina house during fieldwork.

By NICK THOMAS

Dr. Kimberly Pyszka is an anthropologist who specializes in historical archaeology – the study of past cultures in order to better understand the development of our modern world.

“In addition to archaeological excavations, I also use evidence gained from historic documents, landscape and architectural studies, art history, and other studies of material culture,” explained Pyszka, an Associate Professor in the Auburn University at Montgomery Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work.

Pyszka’s main research involves the archaeological study of historic landscapes and building architecture within the Southeastern U.S.

“I find landscapes and architecture fascinating because they express the cultural practices and beliefs of the people who created and modified them,” she explained. “By studying them, we can learn not just about how past peoples modified the landscape and created the built environment around them – and us – but also about the cultural and/or ideological reasons why they shaped it the way they did.”

Much of her research has centered on churches within colonial and frontier contexts, and she located foundational ruins of St. Paul’s Parish Church which was constructed in 1707 in present-day Charleston, SC.

“While there are no surviving visual depictions of St. Paul’s, I have been able to provide a description of the church’s visual appearance, including its architecture and construction materials,” she said. “Additionally, I have contributed to the understanding of the influence of the Anglican Church in early colonial South Carolina.”

More locally, Pyszka and her students have studied two 20th century tenant farmer house sites located on the AUM campus.

“Archaeological studies of tenant house sites are rare, so our research has the potential to influence our understanding of tenant farmer daily life in Central Alabama, as well as the Southeast. These sites have provided excellent opportunities to teach students archaeological field methods through hands-on experience.”

Another current project of Pyszka’s has taken her to Cane Hill, Arkansas, to conduct excavations at a mid-19th Century Methodist church and buildings on the 1850's Cane Hill College campus.

“I have assisted with identifying potential sites for future excavations,” she says. “So this is a long-term research project for myself and one that AUM students have been, and will continue to be, involved with.”

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery (aum.edu) and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 700 newspapers and magazines (getnickt.com).