Public Archaeology at the Parker Academy and the Magic of a Grant

It’s Kentucky Archaeology month and while we celebrate the past and our locale history, I feel compelled to discuss an important part of archaeology that generally receives little attention. That is, funding and grants. One of the most daunting tasks for any archaeologist relates to finding funding. Most of us have a list of amazing projects including research and excavation that we would love to literally dig into. The challenge is getting the support and money to fund our great ideas. So, we suffer through the laborious grant writing process, keeping our fingers crossed that this last submission will be the one to get the project moving. It is a momentous feeling when you realize that the grant has been reviewed and approved. Now, more challenges arise. You begin stretching your resources as the work moves on, making sure that you comply with the funding guidelines and your research plan. All the while you are working to meet expectations and create a successful environment for everyone involved with the grant. In this short essay I’ll describe a great example of an extraordinary educational experience provided by a grant for Kentucky students—that is the Parker Academy Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program that is directed by Dr.’s Landon and Jones at Northern Kentucky University.

The award of a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation has enabled the Parker Academy project team (including historians, geographers, and an anthropologist), to focus their efforts on creating a multidisciplinary group of student researcher fellows spanning the realms of both the humanities and the social sciences. Combining forces from different disciplines has created a cohesive learning situation, one where researchers share ideas and a love for bringing the past back to life. I have been lucky to be part of this team that is exploring issues of race, gender equality, and social justice through the methods of archaeology and archival history.  In general, our work explores the history of a progressive educational institution before and after the American Civil War era. We also examine the little-understood process of community collaboration in Kentucky and Ohio which made the education of boys and girls, and African Americans along with white children possible. Students of the Parker Academy included former enslaved children from Kentucky that were enrolled by a biological but unrecognized parent in this multiracial and open gendered academy. Our archival work has uncovered the fact that the Parker Academy was only one of the many multiracial educational colleges or schools that the Parkers helped established, along with Berea College of Kentucky and Wilberforce College of Ohio to name a few within the mid-west and North. We believe that the role that the Parkers and their students played in abolitionist movements throughout the Midwest region was profound. This deep-rooted but unrecognized history compels us to share the story of the Parker Academy broadly through community outreach events in Northern Kentucky and Ohio.

Figure 1 Letters from the archives

In the Fall of 2017 a team of undergraduates from Northern Kentucky University and University of Cincinnati was hired through a competitive application process, and as they came together, the magic of a REU experience began. An extensive written and photographic archive of the Parker family of New Richmond, Ohio is held on loan to NKU from a living member of the Parker family.  Our team conducted research that helped the story of the family’s contribution in abolitionism and education in the region come to life. We began scouring through the letters, documents, and photographs beginning in the 1840’s to learn the history of the Parkers and their important work. Through historical archiving, transcribing, and preliminary preservation, the story and their faces came alive with vivid detail. The reflective images of the daguerreotype photographs speak the words that flow from the pages of their letters, journals, and records. I think of the Parker Academy graduates as a kind of  secret society of individuals that went on to become prominent artists, educators, scholars, religious leaders, and more. Many were from Kentucky and Ohio but all of them shared a vision to end slavery and to fight for equality among humans.

Figure 2 Letter from the archives

Through the research process, the REU team learned more about themselves than we realized. By working and collaborating together, we began to find strengths in areas of research and study that we were unaware of before. New passions emerged in areas such as photography and genealogy for many, but this project as has also provided us with an experience that has prepared us for future jobs and graduate school.  Community outreach with the Hughes STEM High School of Cincinnati and students from various Northern Kentucky schools and institutions has been a priority over the last year as we have shared our work and love for the history of the Parkers.

Figure 3 Postcard of the Clermont Academy Schoolhouse and Men’s Dormitoryn

Working in the archives gave the team historical background to provide the much-needed context for the archaeological dig performed at the former location of the academy’s school house and men’s dormitory in the summer of 2018. The team collaborated with NKU’s field archaeology class as well as graduate students from the MA in Public History Program and excavated for three weeks in May. We uncovered large amounts of historical material culture from our excavation units. We encountered a wide range of exciting artifacts including: Union Officers coat buttons, fragments of porcelain dolls, assorted ceramics, bone buttons, diseased glass from various types of bottles for medications, carbonated drinks, and much more. A rock foundation and a possible retaining wall associated with the men’s dormitory were meticulously excavated, giving valuable insight into the methods of building used at the site while also offering the students a challenge in their excavating skills. We are continuing additional laboratory work analyzing the copious artifacts, and we find new discoveries every week.

Figure 4 The Clermont Academy School House

Other activities also continue as our focus has shifted into community outreach, future recruitment, and conference presentations on our findings. A website containing all the work and information for the project was created by NKU graduate student Liza Vance and myself.  The site includes a mix of the photographs, story maps, and examples of the work created by the research team. We think of the website as a one stop place where the general public can find out about the Parker Academy and the National Science Foundations associated REU program. You can take a step into this special place and explore our ongoing and past work at .  We hope you will visit our website and see how the power of one grant can illuminate the lives of not only the subject being researched from the past, but it can also change the people this work touches.

Figure 5 Inside the school house

Finally, I should note that summer 2019 provides an exciting opportunity. The NSF REU Parker Academy fellowships will open for all applicants to become a member of a six-week intensive research project. Work will include historical archiving, transcriptions, and archaeology. More information will be posted on our website; questions can be forwarded to Professor Sharyn Jones, email:

Figure 6 Women’s dormitory as it stands now
Figure 7 Trowel with ceramic artifact
Figure 8 Cooper Pfalz, Professor William Landon, and Professor Sharyn Jones backfilling at the site
Figure 9 Chelsea Hauser excavating a rock foundation

Websites and Social Media Accounts


Acknowledgments: The material presented in this essay is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant # 1659467 to W. J. Landon and S. Jones. Thank you to Samantha Hamilton and Sharyn Jones for assistance reviewing this essay. The author also thanks Mr. Greg Roberts for facilitating and inspiring our work at the Parker Academy site.

Written By: Andrea Shiverdecker

Author Bio

As a Kentucky native and non-traditional student, Andrea Shiverdecker began her bachelor’s degree twenty years ago. After a short military career in the Air Force and the general passing of time, she returned to finish her degree at Northern Kentucky University in January 2017, majoring in Anthropology. Through becoming a part of the Parker Academy NSF REU project, she was able to perform historical archiving, document analysis and transcription, archaeology, artifact analysis, and more. New passions emerged as she began to document and analyze the photographic remains contained within the archives from the Parker family. The role of digital curator for the project was achieved by running and maintaining the program’s social media sites and developing community outreach programs. Other research projects include ethnographic research performed in Belize Summer 2018 which focused on the sugar cane industry and its impacts on the villages and communities surrounding the Orange Walk District in Belize which can be seen at or on Instagram @blue_2_orange. Personal longtime research delves into the art and origins of body modifications and personal adornment of humankind across the world and its transitions throughout time. She will graduate in December of 2018 with hopes to attend graduate school in Kentucky in the near future.




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