CONCORD, N.H. – University of New Hampshire students have been uncovering clues to campus life during the late 19th century by digging up a small grassy lot that was once home to a longtime professor and dean.
The dig is part of a class called “The Lost Campus: The Archaeology of UNH” and marks the first time anyone has conducted an excavation on the UNH campus.
Assistant professor Meghan Howey said the class gives students a way to get hands-on experience without the expense of traveling far away for an archaeological dig. And she said it encourages them to explore the university’s history in a new way.
“It’s important to think about UNH as its own cultural space with its own history, and we don’t often think about things that way. UNH does a lot with sustainability, and I think cultural resource management — managing our heritage — should be part of that,” she said.
Students spent the first half of the semester learning about archaeology and researching possible sites for the excavation.
While most of them started in the university’s archives, one student walked by a vacant lot and noticed a pathway, spurring him to look into what had occupied the land.
Once the class figured out that the property had been home to Charles Holmes Pettee, who served the college from 1876 until his death in 1938, they decided to make that the focus of the dig.
Students have turned up bits and pieces of Pettee’s life, including dishes, glassware and construction materials that show how the house was built and renovated. The quality of the dishes and glass indicate that Pettee was fairly affluent, Howey said. Students also found a penny from 1918, the year Pettee served as interim president.
“There’s something about having things to look at and touch that makes it really real,” she said.
“It’s kind of nice to make them think about a time when there weren’t cellphones and there weren’t computers, and student life and faculty life was very different.”
Jillian Price, a junior who served as the class’s teaching assistant, has won a grant to spend the summer on a new archaeological dig. She’ll be uncovering barracks that were built in just three days in 1918 when UNH was turned into a training camp for World War I and were later turned into dorms.
“What I’m really interested in looking at is the construction methods, since they went up so quickly yet stood until the ’70s,” she said. “Also, hopefully, I can find out about how these men interacted with each other.”