RustBelt Anthro

Contemporary Archaeology in the Postindustrial U.S.


I am a doctoral candidate in the department of anthropology at Indiana University and an assistant editor of the Journal of Community Archaeology and Heritage. My research interests include postindustrial landscapes, urban blight, sustainable demolition practices and adaptive reuse, and narratives of urban decline and renewal in popular media. In 2015, I received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation to carry out my dissertation project, an ethnographic investigation of perspectives on and approaches to blight removal and management in Detroit, Michigan, where I currently live. For more information about my interests and current projects, connect with me on LinkedIn and


This blog focuses on my research in Detroit, but also more broadly on the intersections of (post)industrial heritage, media, art, and material culture. I’m interested in how people have engaged with and thought about vacant and derelict spaces throughout time. For example, you may see posts here that focus on ruin porn photography and urban exploration as alternative or ‘unauthorized’ ways of documenting and understanding the past.

What is ‘Rust Belt Anthropology?’

The term “Rust Belt” has been used since the 1980s to describe the formerly industrial cities and towns along the east coast and in the Great Lakes region of the United States (see map below). Though previously considered an offensive term, there’s a growing movement within the region that embraces it and seeks to recognize and celebrate the creativity and resilience with which postindustrial communities navigate change.

An anthropology in and of the Rust Belt focuses on the region’s heritage and rich history of industry and innovation, as well as the challenges and issues many postindustrial communities currently face, such as blight and vacancy, population shifts, gentrification, environmental hazards and degradation, lack of economic opportunity and resources, the reduction in or suspension of basic public services, and widespread stereotyping and misrepresentation in the media.

For some examples of anthropological research in this region, see the Anthropology by the Wire project in Baltimore, the Exit Zero Project in Southeast Chicago, and Alice Mah’s, Industrial Ruination, Community and Place:Landscapes and Legacies of Urban Decline (Mah is an urban sociologist, and this project explores and compares experiences of deindustrialization in three communities in North America, the UK, and Russia; you can watch an interview with her here).

For examples of historical and industrial archaeology projects in the Rust Belt and Great Lakes region, check out the Cliff Mine Project blog and the Unearthing Detroit Project.

Last but not least, be sure to check out Belt Magazine and Belt Publishing, a Cleveland-based online magazine and publishing house dedicated to independent journalism about the Rust Belt. They have published a number of anthologies by and for residents of Rust Belt cities (Detroit, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Youngstown, and counting) that are often misrepresented in mainstream media.

Map by Krista Siniscarco

 What is Contemporary Archaeology?

Contemporary archaeology is the application of archaeological methods and theories to the study of the present and recent past, and to the study of how the past circulates in the present. For more information about the different kinds of research that contemporary archaeologists do and the methods and approaches they use, see this excellent description by Kaitlin Scharra at Unearthing Detroit, the CHAT-Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory group, and the Journal for Contemporary Archaeology.


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