The Life and Work of W. B. Nickerson (1865-1926)

The Life and Work of W. B. Nickerson (1865-1926)

Scientific Archaeology in Central North America

By Ian Dyck

396 Pages · 9.5x6.75 · November 2 2016

Paper ISBN: 9780776623887

PDF ISBN: 9780776623894

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Description

During his spare time, William Baker Nickerson investigated sites from New England to the Midwest and into the Canadian Prairies. In the course of exploration, he created an elegant and detailed record of discoveries and developed methods which later archaeologists recognized as being ahead of their time. By middle age, he was en route to becoming a professional contract archaeologist. However, after a very good start, during World War I archaeological commissions disappeared and failed to recover for many years afterward. Consequently, in spite of heroic efforts, Nickerson was unable to restore his scientific career and died in obscurity. His life story spans the transition of North American archaeology from museums and historical societies to universities, throwing light on a phase of history that is little known.

Abstract (v)
Résumé (vi)
Acknowledgements (xvii)
Introduction (1)

PART I
A Life in Archaeology

Chapter 1
Family Background and Education (11)

Chapter 2
Archaeology and its Intellectual Context, 1790 to 1890 (23)

Chapter 3
Field Work in Illinois and Ohio, 1884‑1885 (43)

Chapter 4
Life in Michigan with a Little Archaeology, 1886–1893 (59)

Chapter 5
First Five Years in Northwestern Illinois, 1893–1898 (75)

Chapter 6
Second Stretch in Northwest Illinois, 1898–1902 (95)

Chapter 7
Life in Chicago, 1902–1909 (115)

Chapter 8
Life in Kidder, 1909–1912 (147)

Chapter 9
Dreams of Full-Time Archaeology, 1912–1913 (163)

Chapter 10
Two Commissions and an Old Obligation, 1913–1914 (187)

Chapter 11
Sourisford and Snowflake, 1914–1915 (209)

Chapter 12
Valleys of the Assiniboine, Little Saskatchewan, and Whitemud Rivers, 1915–1916 (225)

Chapter 13
Cambria Village and Judson Mound, 1916–1917 (241)

Chapter 14
One Career Ends, the Other Fades, 1917–1922 (257)

Chapter 15
It Was Always Archaeology (267)

Epilogue (275)

Conclusion (281)

PART II
Appendices—Reports from the Field

Appendix 1
Nickerson’s Summary of Explorations in Northwest Illinois to September 1898 (293)

Appendix 2
Summary of Nickerson’s Archaeology, 1893–1902 (297)

Appendix 3
Letter Reports for the 1912 Manitoba Survey (303)

Appendix 4
Nickerson’s Letter Reports for 1913 Excavations, Jones Village Site, Cambria, Minnesota (319)

Appendix 5
Nickerson’s Letter Reports for 1913. Investigations at Sourisford, including the End-of-Season Summary Report (323)

Appendix 6: Nickerson’s Special Report on 1914 Archaeology (329)

Appendix 7: Nickerson’s Summary of 1914 Investigations for the GSC Annual Report (331)

Appendix 8
Progress Reports on Minnesota Archaeology, 1916 (333)

Appendix 9
Nickerson’s Analysis of Expenditures for September and October 1916 (341)

Appendix 10
Nickerson’s Answers to Libby’s Questions about North Antler Creek Sites (343)

Bibliography (347)

Index (367)

Reviews

Born in 1865 in New England, Nickerson came of age when there were 29 people in North America earning their living as archeologists. Nickerson spent his life trying—and failing—to become the 30th. He never managed to secure a permanent position at a museum or university. And yet, his body of research—eked out during whatever time he could steal away from paying jobs in the railroad industry—became posthumously influential in the development of institutional archaeology on this continent.

“Archaeology had become his obsession,” Dyck writes. “He accepted unstable jobs in remote places that sometimes separated him from his family and sometimes left them short of funds.”

Over decades, Nickerson continued to cobble together time and money to excavate in New England, the American Midwest and, starting in 1912, the Canadian Prairies. Even at this late stage in his career, Nickerson was still delayed and hampered waiting for his employer to find someone to take over his job on the railroad for a few weeks so that he could get away.

Nickerson’s contributions to the field had more to do with his methods than his actual discoveries. He produced beautiful topological drawings and refined meticulous, grid-based excavation methods that are now the standard for modern archeology.

It is not always easy to grok the deep motivations of citizen scientists such as (Anne Innis) Dagg and Nickerson. Both become much more intuitive, empathetic characters when they turn their doggedness to activist causes—Dagg to environmentalism and feminism, Nickerson to socialism. (Nickerson’s socialist values emerged from his work on the railroads, where he felt ill treated and disempowered. His first declared his commitment to the cause in letters to his father and brother, who castigated him for it. He went on to write many essays for the Chicago Daily socialist newspaper.) But the drive to do science—to really do science, to let your curiosity subsume every other motivation and concern, to ignore all the signs practically screaming at you to do something else with your life—is something strange and rare. These two books celebrate that spirit, as well the glorious minutiae in which it finds sustenance.

Patchen Barss, "Going It Alone. The marvellous, single-minded, doggedly strange passion of citizen science," Literary Review of Canada, p. 21

Born in 1865 in New England, Nickerson came of age when there were 29 people in North America earning their living as archeologists. (...) His body of research became posthumously influential in the development of institutional archaeology on this continent. He produced beautiful topological drawings and refined meticulous, grid-based excavation methods that are now the standard for modern archeology. (T)he drive to do science—to really do science, to let your curiosity subsume every other motivation and concern, to ignore all the signs practically screaming at you to do something else with your life—is something strange and rare. (This book) celebrate(s) that spirit, as well the glorious minutiae in which it finds sustenance.

Patchen Barss, "Going It Alone. The marvellous, single-minded, doggedly strange passion of citizen science," Literary Review of Canada, p. 21

“Born in 1865 in New England, Nickerson came of age when there were 29 people in North America earning their living as archeologists. Nickerson spent his life trying—and failing—to become the 30th. He never managed to secure a permanent position at a museum or university. And yet, his body of research—eked out during whatever time he could steal away from paying jobs in the railroad industry—became posthumously influential in the development of institutional archaeology on this continent.
“Archaeology had become his obsession,” Dyck writes. “He accepted unstable jobs in remote places that sometimes separated him from his family and sometimes left them short of funds.
(T)he drive to do science—to really do science, to let your curiosity subsume every other motivation and concern, to ignore all the signs practically screaming at you to do something else with your life—is something strange and rare. (This book) celebrate(s) that spirit, as well the glorious minutiae in which it finds sustenance."
– Patchen Barss, "Going It Alone. The marvellous, single-minded, doggedly strange passion of citizen science," Literary Review of Canada, January-February 2017, p. 21