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Campus Graffiti Project

View the map here

In their introduction to the book Scribbling Through History: Graffiti, Places, and People from Antiquity to Modernity Ragazzoli, Harmansah, and Salvador note that rather than trying to define what graffiti is or what it means, it is perhaps most profitable to examine what graffiti does. In many instances graffiti materializes the political struggles of the marginalized. The presence of graffiti may impel a response from peers or authority figures trying to cover it up. In all cases, graffiti is an active player in a dramatic landscape.

This project started when I snapped some pictures of Covid-19 related graffiti on the Quad gazebo in 2020 (see blue points on the map). Actually, the fire was lit before that based on inspiration from my colleagues, Drs Livia and Abigail Stone, and their work with graffiti in Oaxaca. As we returned to in person classes on campus, I offered students extra credit for snapping pictures of graffiti around campus. With confirmation of the widespread prevalence of graffiti, students in Explorations in Archaeology began the more systematic documentation of the heart of campus in 2023. Our focus was on spray painted works while leaving chalk messages, stickers, and posters for another time. In the process, we documented not only the work of those creating graffiti but of the University’s attempts to erase the unsanctioned images. Even though the specific details are all quite different than what the Drs Stone encountered in Oaxaca, there are similar patterns of “conversations” between disparate parties that reflect the political and economic environment of our University, and probably apply to many similar institutions across the country.

But our work is just beginning to unravel what graffiti does on ISU’s campus. The long-term goal is to continue updating this map as a way to track similarities or differences through time while simultaneously providing practical, accessible, and therefore equitable archaeological fieldwork experience for students (following the advice of Laura Heath-Stout and Elizabeth Hannigan. 2020. Affording archaeology: How field school costs promote exclusivity. Advances in Archaeological Practice). Of course, there are opportunities for student research and analysis projects as well. Please contact me if you are interested in participating.

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