© 2016

An Archaeology of Improvement in Rural Massachusetts

Landscapes of Profit and Betterment at the Dawn of the 19th century

  • Discusses the improvement of rural agricultural landscapes in New England in the early 19th century

  • Focuses on the role of Improvement as a cultural logic operating to manage and structure rural life

  • Addresses the role that agriculture and symbolic constructions of urban and rural life played in structuring landscape change


Part of the Contributions To Global Historical Archaeology book series (CGHA)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xiii
  2. Improvement as Archaeological Subject

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 1-1
    2. Quentin P. Lewis
      Pages 3-21
    3. Quentin P. Lewis
      Pages 23-43
  3. Improving New England at the Dawn of the Nineteenth Century

  4. The Materiality of an Improver in the Connecticut River Valley

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 117-117
    2. Quentin P. Lewis
      Pages 139-169
    3. Quentin P. Lewis
      Pages 171-191
    4. Quentin P. Lewis
      Pages 193-205
  5. Back Matter
    Pages 207-236

About this book


This book probes the materiality of Improvement in early 19th century rural Massachusetts. Improvement was a metaphor for human intervention in the dramatic changes taking place to the English speaking world in the 18th and 19th centuries as part of a transition to industrial capitalism.  The meaning of Improvement vacillated between ideas of economic profit and human betterment, but in practice, Improvement relied on a broad assemblage of material things and spaces for coherence and enaction.

Utilizing archaeological data from the home of a wealthy farmer in rural Western Massachusetts, as well as an analysis of early Republican agricultural publications, this book shows how Improvement’s twin meanings of profit and betterment unfolded unevenly across early 19th century New England. The Improvement movement in Massachusetts emerged at a time of great social instability, and served to ameliorate growing tensions between urban and rural socioeconomic life through a rationalization of space. Alongside this rationalization, Improvement also served to reshape rural landscapes in keeping with the social and economic processes of a modernizing global capitalism. But the contradictions inherent in such processes spurred and buttressed wealth inequality, ecological distress, and social dislocation.


Agricultural Improvement in Massachusetts Archaeology of Rural Landscape Change Rural Life and Historical Archaeology The E.H. Williams House excavations The Improvement movement within Archaeology Transition of rural landscapes to industrial capitalism

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Durham UniversityDurhamUnited Kingdom

About the authors

Quentin Lewis received his BA in Archaeology from Boston University, and his MA and PhD from the University of Massachusetts. He has conducted archaeological work in the Midwestern and Northeastern United States, as well as in the North of England, where he is currently an Honorary Research Fellow in Archaeology at Durham University. He has continued his lifelong personal and scholarly fascination with New England with research on historical memory and the development of capitalism. His newest research project involves studying the impacts of the Great Depression on the landscapes of the Northeast of England.

Bibliographic information

  • Book Title An Archaeology of Improvement in Rural Massachusetts
  • Book Subtitle Landscapes of Profit and Betterment at the Dawn of the 19th century
  • Authors Quentin Lewis
  • Series Title Contributions To Global Historical Archaeology
  • Series Abbreviated Title Contribut.Global Hist.Archaeology
  • DOI
  • Copyright Information Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
  • Publisher Name Springer, Cham
  • eBook Packages Social Sciences Social Sciences (R0)
  • Hardcover ISBN 978-3-319-22104-5
  • Softcover ISBN 978-3-319-36328-8
  • eBook ISBN 978-3-319-22105-2
  • Series ISSN 1574-0439
  • Edition Number 1
  • Number of Pages XIII, 236
  • Number of Illustrations 0 b/w illustrations, 0 illustrations in colour
  • Topics Archaeology
  • Buy this book on publisher's site