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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Whitney Battle-Baptiste

Second Advisor

Sonya Atalay

Third Advisor

Britt Rusert

Subject Categories

Archaeological Anthropology


The dissertation explores how memory, materiality, and meritocracy articulate together to create a meritocratic subjectivity at the Dr. James Still Historic Office and Homestead. This subjectivity frames how we experience and promote the history of Dr. James Still through an authorized heritage discourse (AHD) (Smith 2006) that promotes and re-ingrains American meritocracy, specifically the “bootstrap myth”, as a “common sense”. Using a combination of archaeological excavations, documentary analysis, and ethnography conducted under the Dr. James Still Community Archaeology Project (DJSCAP), I explore how cultural artifacts shape and influence our subjectivities at the site and more broadly in everyday interactions with each other. I demonstrate how the specific articulation of memory, materiality, and meritocracy, what I call “meritocratic artifacts”, reveals a feedback loop that reproduces and rewards meritocratic thinking. I argue that by making this articulation visible through the process of excavation (both as a craft and metaphorically), we can shift the conversation concerning meritocracy at the site towards a more critical AHD that accounts for the social linkages undergirding Dr. Still’s success story. This shift envisions a community centered paradigm at its core, challenging the fundamental tenets of meritocratic individualism by refocusing on the collective efforts necessary for “success”.