Key Pages:

Material Culture
Transforming Rhode Island Hall

Archaeology of Rhode Island Hall

Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423

An Archaeological Perspective

By Whit Schroeder

Welcome to the Rhode Island Hall Thesis Project website! During the Fall 2008 and Spring 2009 terms at Brown University, I will be continuing the work of Elise Nuding by documenting the transformation of one of Brown's most visible buildings. Rhode Island Hall has undergone many changes throughout its long history, and I hope that through this project we will all gain a new perspective on how our recent past and current actions will affect the future of this institution.

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Rhode Island Hall Project 2008-2009

Out of all the frequently-used buildings on Brown University’s Main Green, Rhode Island Hall is the least conspicuous. In fact, when discussing Rhode Island Hall with a number of fellow students, they would often ask “Which building is Rhode Island Hall?” Though the building is fairly nondescript today, for the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, Rhode Island Hall will provide a new, “state of the art environment” ( for the study of archaeology, and, for Brown University in general, the renovation will reinforce the centrality of the campus while strengthening the college’s ties to the surrounding landscape. Indeed, Rhode Island Hall will be a very different place for incoming students next year.

However, next year’s freshman will never realize that Rhode Island Hall may have had a different past, and even the building’s most recent history as providing space for the Office of International Programs, Psychological Services, and general classroom space is foreign to the class of 2012. Change has been a constant throughout the history of Brown University, but in today’s modern world, change seems to take place at an unprecedented speed. Thus, a crucial part of this project will be to record and synthesize the long history of Rhode Island Hall. Of course, documenting the current changes during the construction project will serve as the main purpose for this study, as the transformation is paramount to understanding the history of the building and its future as the center for archaeology at Brown.

In order to understand the building’s past and future, the history of how people interacted and continue to interact with Rhode Island Hall will be impossible to separate from the material aspects of the project. Indeed, the building’s name originated from the generous subscriptions from donors, most of whom were Rhode Islanders. Thus, historical documents of past donors, professors, and students will provide a foundation for this archaeological project. Memories will build on this foundation – students, alumnae, and professors will be interviewed in order to provide a record of the more recent past. The project will remain, fittingly, an archaeological one.

While conducting this project, the work of Elise Nuding in her “An Archaeology of Rhode Island Hall” will be invaluable. Her archival research, photographs, and final report will surely make my job much easier. However, whereas Nuding’s work focused on documenting the current state of Rhode Island Hall (as of the beginning of 2008) in relation to the transformation of the building throughout its 168-year history, this project will focus on the 2008-2009 transformation itself. Because construction will not finish until after the summer of 2009, perhaps someone else will have to step in next year to document the effects of this transformation.

A comparative method will also be used in this project in order to place Rhode Island Hall in the context of Brown University and Rhode Island. Examples from historic preservation elsewhere will assist in understanding what effect restoration has on people and their environment. The Building Brown plan will also be analyzed to understand how restoration literally and figuratively builds Brown. University Hall, Smith-Buonanno, and Pembroke Hall seem to pertain particularly to this project as historic buildings that have been restored and updated to modern needs.

The environmental benefits of restoring Rhode Island Hall will also be studied, especially in relation to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED provides standards for environmentally sustainable construction. Part of the certification involves a student project designed to document the sustainability of the building and to educate the public about how such environmentally-friendly construction is possible. In relation to archaeology, past designs for Rhode Island Hall’s plumbing and heating will be examined. This section of the project may be manifested in the forms of comprehensive signs and guided tours of the building. Guided tours, of course, will have to be carefully planned with the Shawmut construction team for safety reasons.

Another goal before the completion of construction work that relates directly to the Rhode Island Hall archaeology project is the plan to place a time capsule beneath one of the building’s foundation stones. The details of this time capsule as well as whether it will be incorporated into one of the phases of the archaeology project are still being discussed.

The Rhode Island Hall archaeology project is an exciting venture that will involve an interdisciplinary approach in which I will seek advisors from the archaeology, anthropology, history of art and architecture, and urban studies fields. This project, I hope, will serve as a valuable capstone to my final year at Brown, beginning a new phase in my continuing archaeology studies, as well as initiating a new chapter in Rhode Island Hall’s noble history.

Tentative Project Timeline
September 2008Asbestos abatement, selected demolition begins
(Film and document the interior of RI Hall before demolition)
October 2008Remove and store windows
First floor interior shoring
(Document, research history of windows?)
November 2008Basement excavation, elevator construction begins
(Document, salvage any material culture found?)
December 2008Interior structural demolition
(Document and salvage selected materials,
complete most of the research phase of the project and turn in draft)
February 2009Structural steel erection, elevator construction ends
(Post LEED signs, interview students and professors)
March 2009Construction – 1st floor, 2nd floor, and mezzanine decks; stair #1, basement
April 2009Stair #2 construction, restore exterior windows, install skylights
(Begin tours inside the building?)
May 2009Inspections
(Thesis due, presentation of project)
June 2009Painting and completion of project
(Continue to document for later additions to project?)