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Archaeology students work to dig up lessons about Bronzeville's past at IIT

Students digging up Bronzeville history on IIT campus
Students digging up Bronzeville history on IIT campus 02:02

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A group of Lake Forest College students has spent the last several weeks working to unearth some Chicago history on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

They're looking to the past to learn more about what was formerly on the Bronzeville campus.

You don't have to look too far beneath the surface to learn something new about old Chicago.

"We recovered artifacts, ... and just learned a lot more about them by looking at these pieces of things they left behind," said Dr. Rebecca S. Graff, a historical archaeologist and associate professor of anthropology at Lake Forest College.

In the middle of an open field on the IIT campus, Graff and her archeology students are reconstructing what was once home to the Armour Flats – apartment-style housing built in the 1880s by Armour & Company meatpackers to house their employees in Bronzeville.

"They were demolished in 1961 as part of the broader urban renewal to create the Mies van der Rohe campus of this area," Graff said.

Urban renewal, more colloquially known as gentrification, is at the core of this dig.

"I'm really interested in thinking about what the material signature of urban renewal looks like in Chicago and other cities, and how we can use some of that information to kind of reckon with the history and the structures of racism to create that type of environment," Graff said.

Graff's students are helping to reconstruct a lost narrative, unearthing Chicago's history one rock at a time.

"It's something that you have to do to learn. You can't just read about it," Graff said.

Students dig down, 10 centimeters at a time, documenting all of their findings. Once the dig wraps up, they'll spend the next several months cleaning, labeling, and analyzing the artifacts – all under Graff's guidance.

"There was a lot of communities and people specifically who were hurt by that process [gentrification], and so I think that's why digs like this are important, because otherwise, you know, again, like if you didn't know we were here, it looks like just like a field. And so then all that history and all those stories can be just swept and buried, pun intended," said student Kris Bostick. 

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