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Anthropology
Completed Project

Documenting the Cultural Impacts of Urban Water System Creation and Maintenance

Drew Leventhal ’17 and April Beisaw

This project is really a multifaceted one, complicated and interwoven with stories of tension and emotion as only Anthropology can unveil. The work consists of hiking and surveying around the sites of two reservoirs owned by the City of New York. These reservoirs, one in the Catskills and one just south of Poughkeepsie, are far far (50-125 miles) away from the city they supply. The construction of these reservoirs in the late 19th-early 20th century involved massive land acquisitions by the city, displacing whole towns full of buildings and people. This invasion helped foster a culture of distrust in those still living around the reservoir. Our project then is to untangle the connections and histories of the area, to figure out what happened, what is happening, and what could be done to fix some of the bridges that were burned long ago.

Our primary method for digging up and reconstructing the past is Archaeology (although we don’t do any actual digging). The team travels to New York City owned land, policed by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, and surveys the sites, looking for any signs of previous or current cultural activity. My specific job on this project is as the field photographer. I take high-quality digital images of everything we find and then database the images so that we can draw connections and conclusions from our field data. We have found that many city owned sites, although advertised as “virgin forest,” are riddled with cultural artifacts of past land use. Using the artifacts we find we can piece together a better picture of what was culturally happening in the area and how it affects those living there today.