"With the quiet sturdy strength of the folk of an older time": an archaeological approach to time, place-making, and heritage construction at the Fairbanks House, Dedham, Massachusetts
Parno, Travis Gordon
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Historic houses function as the stages for, and central figures in, processes of place-making and heritage construction. I offer the case site of the Fairbanks House (completed in 1641) in Dedham, Massachusetts as the subject of my investigation into these issues. Touted as the "oldest timber frame house in North America," the Fairbanks House is widely regarded as a significant example of early colonial architecture in the United States; it has operated as a house museum since it was purchased by the Fairbanks Family in America, Inc. stewardship group in 1904. This study expands beyond antiquity to include all eight generations of Fairbanks families who lived on the property. I argue that longevity, and a durational perspective that links the past with the present, is equally vital to peoples' understanding and appreciation. I trace the biography of the Fairbanks House from its creation in the early 17th century to its current use as a heritage site. This perspective emphasizes the continued saliency of accumulated individual decisions and actions, reified by both material culture and immaterial processes such as tradition and memory. I use archaeological, architectural, documentary, and oral sources to reconstruct the landscape of the Fairbanks farm and I demonstrate how residents made day-to-day choices, such as land purchases or neighborly socializing, to improve their socio-economic standing and establish a future for their children. In doing so for eight generations, they established a legacy that was celebrated beginning in the 19th century, when Fairbanks women living in the house promoted their family's history through storytelling and published media. These processes of heritage construction remain continuous and personal, as shown by the results of an ethnographic study that I designed, which reveals that Fairbanks House museum visitors define historicity not through specific facts about the Fairbanks family but through their own narratives based on their engagement with the site's material culture. In addition to providing an important example of how generations of modestly-successful New England farmers adapted their surroundings to fit their values and goals, this study positions local house museums as dynamic spaces for creative, personal engagements with the past.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University