Sociology and Anthropology

Rebecca Graff

Rebecca Graff

Associate Professor of Anthropology

Sociology and Anthropology


Historical archaeology, US urban archaeology (19th- and 20th- century Chicago), modern and contemporary material culture, world’s fairs and expositions, anthropology of time and temporality, archaeology of tourism


PhD University of Chicago (2011)
MA University of Chicago (2001)
BA University of California, Berkeley (1999)

Research Interests

As a historical archaeologist with research interests in the 19th- and 20th-century urban United States, I explore the relationship between temporality and modernity, memory and material culture, tourism, and nostalgic consumption through archaeological and archival research. My dissertation, “The Vanishing City: Time, Tourism, and the Archaeology of Event at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition,” was based on an archaeological and archival project focusing on the ephemeral “White City” and Midway Plaisance of the 1893 Chicago Fair. I have directed further archaeological projects in Chicago, including excavations at the Louis Sullivan-designed Charnley-Persky House (2010, 2015), the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument (2016), the Gray-Cloud House (2018), and Mecca Flats (2018).

I earned my PhD in Anthropology from the University of Chicago in 2011. I hold a BA in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley and an MA in Anthropology from the University of Chicago. At the University of Chicago, I taught undergraduate and graduate students as a preceptor and instructor in the Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences (MAPSS), and explored classic readings in social science theory as an instructor in the Social Sciences Collegiate Division. I have directed or co-directed archaeological undergraduate field schools for DePaul University, the University of Chicago, Michigan Technological University, and now Lake Forest College. In 2013 I was honored to win the Kathleen Kirk Gilmore Dissertation Award from the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA). I returned to Chicagoland in 2014 from a year as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Michigan Technological University’s Department of Social Sciences. My new book, Disposing of Modernity: The Archaeology of Garbage and Consumerism During Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair is out August 2020 through the University Press of Florida and the Society for Historical Archaeology.

Courses Taught

SOAN 110: Introduction to Sociology and Anthropology

SOAN 205: Archaeological Field School

SOAN 215: Archaeological Field Methods

SOAN 225: Historic Artifact Analysis: Artifacts of Modernity

SOAN 216: Introduction to Archaeology

SOAN 220: Domains of Human Evidence

SOAN 270: Mapping Chicago                                              

SOAN 318: Archaeology of the Contemporary

SOAN 319: Archaeology of Race, Ethnicity, Class, and Gender

SOAN 370: Social Inequality

Recent Publications

Graff, Rebecca S. (2020). Disposing of Modernity: The Archaeology of Garbage and Consumerism During Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair. University Press of Florida and the Society for Historical Archaeology.

Graff, Rebecca S. (2019). An Ardent Anti-Slavery Tale: Narrating Resistance Through Chicago’s Underground Railroad, 1856-present. Journal of Community Archaeology and Heritage.

Graff, Rebecca S. and M. E. Edwards. (2018). Fair-as-Foodway: Culinary Worlds and Modernizing Tastes at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Historical Archaeology 52(4): 420-437.

Graff, Rebecca S. (2017). Embers from the House of Blazes: Fragments, Relics, Ruins in Chicago. In Contemporary Archaeology and the City: Creativity, Ruination, and Political Action. K. Ryzewski and L. McAtackney, editors. Oxford University Press.

Graff, Rebecca S.and M. E. Edwards. (2017). Columbian Exposition. In The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. C. Haddix, B. Kraig, and C. Sen, editors. University of Illinois Press.

Graff, Rebecca S. (2016). Review of Coming of Age in Chicago: The 1893 World’s Fair and the Coalescence of American Anthropology. Edited by Curtis M. Hinsley and David R. Wilcox. Journal of Illinois History 18(1): 66-67.

Graff, Rebecca S. (2012). Dream City, Plaster City: World’s Fairs and the Gilding of American Material Culture. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 16(4): 696-716. Special Volume on Gilded Age Archaeology, Charles Orser, editor.

Graff, Rebecca S. (2011). Being Toured While Digging Tourism: Excavating Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 15(2): 222-235. Special Volume on the Archaeology of Travel and Tourism, Maria O’Donovan and Lynda Carroll, editors.

Fellowships, Awards, and Grants

2018    William L. Dunn Award for Outstanding Teaching and Scholarly Promise (Lake Forest College)

2013    Kathleen Kirk Gilmore Dissertation Award, Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA)

2013     American Midwest Foodways Scholar’s Grant, Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance, Culinary Historians of Chicago, and the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts

2009    Graduate Student Teaching Award for Excellence in Course Design, The Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Chicago

2008    Scherer Center Dissertation Year Fellowship, Karla Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture, University of Chicago

Selected Popular Work

Interview in Chicago Magazine:
What’s With Those Artifacts Beneath the Future Obama Center?

Chicago Tribune: Long-demolished World’s Fair building unearthed at IIT, tells story of Chicago’s racial divide

Illinois Institute of Technology, Mecca Flat Revealed Roundtable:

Chicago Tonight (WTTW), Archaeological Dig Attracts Curious Neighbors, History Buffs

CBS News, Archaeology Students Dig Through Secret Room, Possible Link To Underground Railroad

The Cultural Landscape Foundation, More Concerns about the Obama Center as Archaeology Report on Jackson Park Faces New Scrutiny

Chicago Tribune, Artifacts from 1893 World’s Fair found beneath Obama center site, but report signals construction won’t be blocked

Chicago Tonight (WTTW): Students Dig For Lost Treasures in the Gold Coast:

WGNtv: Urban dig truly makes trash into treasures for local students:

CBS: Students Digging Up Historical Artifacts At Gold Coast Site:

Chicago Tribune: Relics of the past unearthed in Gold Coast:

Chicago Tribune: Students dig for architectural treasures in Gold Coast:

VoiceAmerica Radio, Indiana Jones: Myth, Reality and 21st Century Archaeology with Joseph Schuldenrein, The Lost City of Chicago: Urban Archaeology and the Future of the Past

Curious City (WBEZ)

Selected Recent Talks and Posters

2018 “Chicago’s Underground Railroad(s): Narrating Resistance, 1856-present” Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory (CHAT) ACT Conference: Agency, Action and Advocacy, Aarhus, Denmark.

2018 “The Vanishing City: Excavating the World’s Fair.” The Newberry Library. October 4.

2018 “Mapping Historical Consumerism through Urban Archaeology.” Digital Chicago: #DH as a Bridge to a City’s Past Panel, Digital Humanities Conference, Mexico City, Mexico. June 28.

2017 “Our Silence Will Be More Powerful Than Words Could Be”: The Haymarket Martyrs Monument and Commemorative Authority. Society for Historical Archaeology Annual Meeting, Fort Worth, TX, January 6.

2016 The Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument Archaeological Project. Forest Park Historical Society, Forest Park, IL, October 27.

2016 The Last Neighborhood: Archaeology Above and Below Chicago’s Haymarket Martyrs Monument and Forest Home Cemetery (with Tim Scarlett and Jane Baxter). Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference, Detroit, MI, September 24.

2016 The Vanishing City and the Enduring Home: Modernity at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and Charnley-Persky House. Northwestern University, April 18.

2015 All That Could Be Solid Melts Into Air: The Struggle for Archaeological Sensibilities in Chicago. Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference, Minneapolis, MN, October 9.

2015 Teaching With and For the Recent Past: Applying Contemporary Archaeology Pedagogically. Society for Historical Archaeology Annual Meeting, Seattle, WA, January 10.