New York’s African Burial Ground and the Struggle for Human Rights: An Archaeology of Public Engagement

The University of Queensland's School of Social Science invites you to attend our 2023 Hall Annual Lecture. All are welcome to attend.

While focused on the past, archaeology has an increasingly visible role in improving human rights for today’s marginalised communities, as exemplified by the African Burial Ground Project in New York City. Pursuing research questions posed by the African American descendent community, Professor Blakey will discuss how the project provided new insights into slavery in early America, established a national monument and developed a world-leading model for community archaeology.

About the lecture

African American political thought and scientific practice have long incorporated political activism and publicly-engaged scholarship. This approach, which requires research to be guided by the needs of oppressed and marginalised communities, offers scientific tools for the expression of group rights, elevating their voices in debates about the past in plural democracies. The clientage model of public engagement used by the African Burial Ground Project in New York City (1992-2009) is a case in point. At this designated cemetery for enslaved Africans, archaeologists and anthropologists pursued research questions proposed by the African American descendant community through a process of public engagement. As well as producing an unusually diverse research team, innovated ethical bioarchaeology (the study of human physical remains) and uniquely sophisticated methods and reports, it also resulted in the establishment of a United States National Monument that demonstrated the high degree of public interest in archaeology. This project exemplifies the public and scientific benefits of acknowledging the intrinsic subjectivity of science as opposed to denying those subjectivities, as commonly expressed in the objectively unverifiable Enlightenment belief in scientific neutrality.

About the presenter

Michael L. BlakeyMichael L. Blakey is National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Anthropology, Africana Studies, and American Studies, and Founding Director of the Institute for Historical Biology at William & Mary. He received the B.A. at Howard University, the M. A. and Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and completed specialized studies at Oxford and London Universities. Blakey held professorships at Spelman College, Columbia, Brown, La Sapienza, and Howard University, where he founded the W. Montague Cobb Biological Anthropology Laboratory. He has served as president of the Association of Black Anthropologists (1987-1989), and member of the editorial boards of American Anthropologist (2012-2016) and American Antiquity (2021-). Blakey represented the United States on the Council of the 4th World Archaeological Congress in Cape Town, South Africa (1999). He is a member of the Scholarly Advisory Committee of the National Museum of African American History and Culture of the Smithsonian Institution (2006-), where he previously held the position of Research Associate in Physical Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History (1985-1994). He was a Key Advisor to the Race: Are We So Different exhibition and website ( of the American Anthropological Association (from 2008).

Blakey was Scientific Director of the New York African Burial Ground Project (1992-2009), the most sophisticated bioarchaeological project in the United States. His team began ethical bioarchaeology, the term ‘descendant community,’ and its use in an empowered public engagement intended for the democratization of knowledge. The Manhattan site became a U.S. National Monument in 2007. He continues to help facilitate descendant communities’ empowerment to tell their own stories and memorialize their dead. The African Burial Ground’s clientage model of public engagement contributed to the new best practices of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2018. Blakey has been appointed Co-Chair of the American Anthropological Association’s Commission for the Ethical Treatment of Human Remains mandated to consolidate and advance the highest ethical standards for the treatment of all human skeletons and tissue samples at archaeological sites, museums, and laboratories in the United States (2022-2024). In 2021, Blakey was presented the President’s Award of the American Anthropological Association, the Legacy Award of the Association of Black Anthropologists, and, in 2022, the Plumeri Award for Faculty Excellence at William & Mary. He is currently completing a 1,500-page monograph on race and racism in science and society, adding to his approximately 90 reports, refereed articles, and edited volumes.                                         


The Hall Annual Lecture is given in honour of the founder of archaeology at The University of Queensland, Associate Professor Jay Hall, and is sponsored by Everick Heritage 

Event image: Photograph from the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

About The Hall Annual Lecture

The Hall Annual Lecture is UQ Archaeology’s annual public lecture in honour of the founder of archaeology at UQ, Associate Professor Jay Hall.

Associate Professor Jay Hall is the former Head of UQ’s Archaeology program. As well as an award-winning teacher, Jay is the editor of Queensland Archaeological research - a publication he started in 1984. Jay retired in 2007 after more than 30 years at the University. He is currently an Adjunct Reader in Archaeology in the School of Social Science at UQ.


Advanced Engineering Building (#49), UQ St Lucia
GHD Auditorium - Level 3