Memory, Materiality, and Alsatian Identity in Castroville, Texas

Part of: Society for Historical Archaeology 2017

Historical archaeology in Castroville, Medina County, Texas offers an ideal forum for studying the interplay of identity, class, memory and materiality. In the 1840s, empresario Henri di Castro brought Alsatian settlers from the Rhine Valley to south Texas, where the new arrivals joined established Mexican families, German immigrants, and displaced Apache. Today, Castroville town leaders see the celebration of Alsatian heritage as a source of economic growth and development. The Castro Colonies Heritage Association (CCHA) is transforming a 19th-century property called the Biry House into a focal point for Alsatian heritage tourism. In partnership with CCHA, Binghamton University has completed three excavation seasons at the property. The material record that we have unearthed provides a narrative that confirms, complicates and challenges written and remembered histories, illustrating how seven generations of house inhabitants constructed and contested Alsatian identity.

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  • Documents (10)

  • Baudrillard in Castroville, Texas: Traces of Contemporary America in the Biry/Tschirhart Families’ Home (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Rui Gomes Coelho.

    In his 1986 travel memoir Amérique, Jean Baudrillard defined America as a constant flow of things: cars and highways, screens and electricity, rivers and geological silence. Everything flows as if the continental vastness of the U.S. could be reduced to a smooth surface that flattens historical time. The result is a landscape defined by regular surfaces that are symmetrical to the predictability of social practices. In this paper, I argue that America’s flow of things has a genealogy, and that...

  • Bones and Barbeques: A Zooarchaeological Study of Alsatian Foodways at Castroville, Texas (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alex D Velez.

    Emigrating from Alsace, a contested border region, to the contested frontier of Texas, many Alsatians had to adjust to life in the American West. This included maintaining their identities as Alsatians in the face of a changing landscape, which manifested through different ways in quotidian life, including choices in food. Through Number of Identified Specimen counts, researchers use faunal assemblages associated with habitation sites to identify patterns of the frequency with which various...

  • Buttoning Up The Social Fabric: Clothing Fasteners Of An Alsatian Immigrant Household (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Maxwell Forton.

    Excavations of the Biry House of Castroville, Texas have produced a diverse assemblage of clothing buttons dating from the 1840s through the 1930s. This paper explores how these buttons are being used to create a more holistic understanding of the lives of these Alsatian immigrants and their descendants. Such buttons are a common occurrence among domestic assemblages of the 19th and 20th century, but these humble artifacts may actively shape the narratives of individual lives and the communities...

  • The Castro Colonies Heritage Association's Living History Center: An Introduction to the Archaeological Project (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Ruth Van Dyke.

    In the 1840s, empresario Henri di Castro brought Alsatian settlers from the Rhine Valley to south Texas, where the new arrivals joined established Mexican families, German immigrants, and displaced Apache.  Today, the Castro Colonies Heritage Association (CCHA) is transforming a 19th-century property into a Living History Center, intended as a focal point for Alsatian heritage tourism. In partnership with the CCHA, Binghamton University archaeologists have completed three excavation seasons at...

  • De-Polarizing Archaeology’s Views on Cultural Pride: The Case of Houses and Plants in Castroville (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Erin P. Riggs.

    In archaeology, we commonly view pride in cultural heritage as either beneficial or dangerous. When we see it as dangerous—ethnocentric or nationalistic—we challenge it by producing material evidence of cultural hybridity and heterogeneity. When we view it as beneficial—emancipatory and unifying—we bolster it by providing communities with material symbols of past accomplishments and cultural continuity. This paper considers how we might de-polarize archaeological perspectives on cultural pride...

  • Gender And Adaptation On The Texas Frontier (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Samuel M. Stansel.

    The Biry House in Castroville, Texas is an archaeological site which presents a unique perspective on frontier life through the eyes of Alsatian immigrants who were thrust into a strange and sometimes hostile new environment. This study examines the ways in which the frontier setting may have affected gender roles and daily responsibilities. It will also examine how these might have changed over time as the residents of the Biry House adapted and settled into their surroundings over successive...

  • Is Close Enough, Enough?: Negotiations of Self and Place in Castroville, Texas through Ceramics. (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Hunter Crosby. Erin Whitson.

    The mid-to-late-19th century marked a time of enormous material and social changearound the world. Newly available lands and a more fluid social structure made life in the American West, and Texas, especially desirable for immigrants from Europe. Immigrants from the French-German border region of Alsace sought and found opportunity in what would become Castroville, Texas. The Birys, a family within the community, sought opportunity like many new immigrants and faced many of the same challenges....

  • Making an Alsatian Texas: World-Building, Materiality, and Storytelling in the Castro Colonies of Medina County (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Patricia G. Markert.

      In many ways, Castroville, Texas is a world unto itself. As the "Little Alsace" of Texas, it has been built for over a century through work, struggle, and cooperation – with words and materials, memories and relationships. This world is continuously crafted today, through the restoration of historic Alsatian-style houses and the stories that are told about the town and its history. Though Castroville has been a nexus of Alsatian identity in Texas, other Alsatian colonies spread further into...

  • Picturing a Storied Past: On Narrative and Photography at a Castroville, TX Archaeological Site (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jesse Pagels.

    Often associated with the documentary record and prized for their historical relevance, photographs can be an invaluable instrument found within any historical archaeologist's toolkit. They help to illuminate and corroborate the material cultural remains we find within the archaeological record as they present to us their dramas through images frozen in time. It is in this phenomenon of storytelling that this paper puts much of its focus as it explores the use of historical photographs as an...

  • Wagons, Trains, Trucks, and Bottles: Transportation Networks and Commodity Access in Castroville, Texas. (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kellam Throgmorton.

    Transportation networks greatly influence the movement of commodities into a community. This paper uses a model of commodity flow developed by Pred (1964) and elaborated on by Adams and colleagues (2001) to analyze glass bottle assemblages from Castroville, Texas. The model suggests that a combination of commodity value, shipping costs, and distance from the North American manufacturing hub influence the movement of goods around the country ca. 1880-1950, creating regional differences in market...