Sam R. Sweitz

Sam R. Sweitz
"All this information, this material, must be taken up and reconsidered in the light of man himself, and one must try if possible, to rediscover, beyond all the details, life itself... Everything must be recaptured and relocated in the general framework of history, so that...we may respect the unity of history which is also the unity of life."
—Fernand Braudel, On History, 1980.


Download CV


  • Associate Professor of Anthropology & Archaeology
  • PhD, Anthropology, Texas A&M University, 2005
  • BA, Archaeology and History, Boston University, 1994


I am an anthropologically trained archaeologist interested in the impact that the global historical process of industrialization has had on past individuals, societies, and environments and the meaning and relevance of those changes to contemporary people.  I am particularly interested in issues related to the evolving articulations created through colonialism, the rise and spread of a capitalist world-economy, and the social, economic, and political processes of globalization.  I apply a range of multidisciplinary approaches drawn from anthropology and across the social sciences in order to interpret societal organization and change within the context of the increasing global articulation of individuals, cultures, and environments that has characterized the modern-era.  In particular I am interested in how these processes, when viewed from the evolutionary perspective of an archaeology that draws from mixed anthropological methodologies and integrated theoretical frameworks, might inform and provide equitable solutions to contemporary societal issues.

In my current position as an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology I contribute specifically to our undergraduate majors, including Anthropology, History,  and the Social Sciences, as well as our graduate programs in Industrial Archaeology (MS), Industrial Archaeology and Heritage (PhD), and Environmental and Energy Policy (MS and PhD).  These efforts include funded research and discovery-based learning opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students in the form of MS and PhD theses, undergraduate Anthropology senior theses, classroom research projects, and summer field schools associated with local, national, and international based research projects, including my ongoing work in Yucatán and Puerto Rico.

In recent years my research agenda has come to reflect a contemporary archaeological approach, i.e. the application of traditional, empirically based archaeological methods and practices to understanding and explaining the contemporary world, informed by a critical social theory that integrates diverse social science approaches in order to critique and change  social circumstances through historically informed solutions to local social problems.     Essential to such an approach is recognition of the local social mechanisms that have influenced and insured long-term flexibility and adaptability in response to changes in economic activities, market structures, and government policy at the regional, national, and international levels over the long-term.  The diverse viewpoints that comprise past and contemporary “local” stakeholder perspectives (intersected by historically informed conceptions of gender, class, ethnicity, race, etc.) need to be explored as fundamental factors in the construction of social knowledge, practice, and identity, the understanding of which is  fundamental to identifying and implementing sustainable and equitable solutions to “local” problems.  Ultimately, my work in archaeology is predicated in the belief that our past informs our present and that locally sustainable futures (economically, environmentally, and culturally) are only possible if they honor and build on the experiences and strengths of the past, as a way to empower individuals and communities in the present and future.

I am currently collaborating on a National Science Foundation sponsored investigation, which represents the approach I have described above.   Our NSF- Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE)  project  is broadly interested in bioenergy development and sustainability in Latin America and involves scholars from multiple academic units at Michigan Tech, along with researchers from 15 universities and institutions from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. The growing global demand for sustainably produced bioenergy and biofuels in many ways has reinvigorated the long-standing articulations between agribusiness and consumers in the global north and ecosystem services and human populations in the global south, echoing earlier plantation systems and dependent relationships that have developed during the modern-era. As the Socioeconomic sub-team leader and Mexico case study lead, the five year NSF grant includes my development of a research project in Yucatán utilizing archaeological research (framed in a community archaeology approach), along with ethnohistorical, ethnographic, and participatory action research methodologies in direct partnership with local communities to evaluate issues of sustainability related to land tenure, labor rights, water rights, and the security of local food systems from an evolutionary historical perspective, as part of a larger program to understand the complex social issues related to proposed and ongoing sustainable bioenergy initiatives in the region.  

More widely, my research interests revolve around two broad and interrelated lines of inquiry that guide a larger unified program of research focused on the development and spread of global articulations in the modern-era.  The first area of inquiry examines the archaeological and historical record to reveal how the local is articulated with larger global processes associated with the rise of a capitalist world-economy.  My research examining this historical perspective has incorporated archaeological, ethnohistorical, and documentary evidence to examine how particular sites represent the increasing interconnections between people and places within a globalizing world.  This approach is best represented in my recently published book, On the Periphery of the Periphery: Household Archaeology at Hacienda San Juan Bautista Tabi, Yucatán, México, which examines archaeological and historical evidence related to the rise of the hacienda system in Yucatán as part of international commodity chains and the institution’s impact on the socioeconomic lives of Mayan laborers. 

The second, integrated area of inquiry examines past social formations as a way of informing contemporary debates regarding present and future social issues.  My research in this area incorporates the use of ethnography, action research, and critical social theory in order to examine topics related particularly to contemporary industrial communities, including the construction and negotiation of working-class identities, industrial heritage, and place, as well as issues related to cultural, economic, and environmental sustainability in both evolving industrial landscapes, as well as post-industrial landscapes.  This perspective is at the heart of the Central Aguirre Research Project I am currently directing in Puerto Rico and part of the NSF project I am developing in Yucatán.  As I briefly mentioned above, this Yucatán project will utilize anthropological and archaeological methodologies in direct partnership with local communities to evaluate the impact of renewed agro-industrial production and issues of local sustainability contextualized within the long-term historical circumstances that have shaped local social systems and stakeholder perceptions related to key socio-economic issues related to the environment and land-use.  This work will incorporate and extend the archaeological and historical research I previously conducted at Hacienda Tabi, Yucatán related to the development of inequalities and exploitation engender by the articulation of local communities within global networks.    

As a scholar I have balanced my personal research interests with collaborative efforts dedicated to programmatic growth and the strengthening of existing research programs within the Department of Social Sciences, as well as across academic units at Michigan Tech and among our international partners (e.g. NSF-PIRE and NSF-RCN funded Pan American bioenergy sustainability research). As a result I have coordinated my research interests and activities between departmental projects, such as the West Point Foundry Project in Cold Spring, New York and our local Cliff Mine Project here in the Keweenaw (both projects having significant public archaeology components), with research related to my area expertise in Latino cultures of Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly in Yucatán, Mexico and in Puerto Rico.

Research Interests

  • Historical and Industrial Archaeology
  • Social, Economic, and Political Dimensions of Haciendas, Plantations, and Industrial Communities in the American West, Latin America, and the Caribbean
  • Issues Related to Colonialism, World-Systems Analysis, post-Colonialism, and Globalization
  • Relevance of Archaeology and Heritage to Identity Formation and Contemporary Social Systems