At UNO, we act as a center for multidisciplinary research in urban material culture, history, archaeology, anthropology, and the environment, with archaeological collections curated and maintained by the facility serving as a core component of this research. We emphasize public interpretation and engagement through partnerships with visual artists, museums, community organizations, federal and state recognized Native American tribes, and government agencies. We provide experiential learning opportunities for students at both the undergraduate and graduate level, and we promote archaeological research that is engaged with social justice and contemporary issues of equity, inclusion, and sustainability.
D. Ryan Gray is the Richard Wallin Boebel Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Orleans and the Associate Director of the Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies. He also serves as a member of the Louisiana Antiquities Commission and Archaeological Survey and of the Louisiana Slavery and Ancestral Burial Ground Commission. Dr. Gray is an archaeologist specializing in the historical archaeology of New Orleans, Louisiana. He started his career in archaeology with an undergraduate degree from Columbia University, New York, New York, in 1996, and field work at the Mayan site of El Pilar on the border of Belize and Guatemala. He began doing archaeology in New Orleans in 1999 while working for the local cultural resource management firm Earth Search, Inc. During his time at Earth Search, he served in a variety of roles in the field and lab, eventually acting as both a project manager for many of the company’s large urban projects and as the lab manager with the responsibility for preparing analyses and reports for those and other projects.
After helping ESI rebuild from damage incurred during Hurricane Katrina, Gray elected to continue his academic studies in the University of Chicago’s Department of Anthropology beginning in 2007, completing an M.A. thesis on Chinese immigration to Louisiana, as seen through the history and archaeology of a Chinese-owned laundry from the Exclusion era. While at the University of Chicago, Gray received the Hanna Holborn Gray Fellowship in the Humanities and Humanistic Social Sciences to support his dissertation research. His dissertation (Anthropology, Chicago, 2012) examined race, urban development, auto-construction, and slum clearance, through the archaeology at the sites of the city’s St. Thomas and Magnolia Housing Projects and at Mother Catherine Seal’s Temple of the Innocent Blood in the Lower Ninth Ward. He is currently preparing a book manuscript dealing with history and archaeology at the sites of four of New Orleans’ housing projects, in an examination of the logics and ideologies behind slum clearance, both in the past and present.
Since Gray arrived at UNO, he has developed a number of long-term archaeological projects in the city, many of them pursued in conjunction with UNO’s field schools in archaeology. Past field schools have investigated sites ranging from Storyville, the city’s quasi-legal red light district, often considered the birthplace of jazz, to the Temple of the Innocent Blood in the Lower Ninth Ward, to the campus of the New Orleans African American Museum in the city’s Treme neighborhood. He continues to develop new projects, including MIA recovery projects in central Europe conducted in conjunction with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and the University of Innsbruck.
Much of Dr. Gray’s recent work concerns twentieth century African-American life in the urban South. His work on Mother Catherine Seal is part of a larger project examining auto-construction and self-building in African-American religious and spiritual communities throughout the Southeast. Other ongoing projects include work on the St. Peter Street Cemetery, New Orleans first formal cemetery of the Colonial era. This work stemmed from a cooperative effort with Earth Search, Inc., the FACES lab at LSU, and Dr. Shannon Dawdy of the University of Chicago to recover human remains endangered by a construction project on private property. In addition, Dr. Gray has been developing a mapping and documentation project for graves at Holt Cemetery, the city’s paupers’ cemetery.