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August 18, 2011

CCNY Interns Help Unearth 19th Century African-American Village

Ashton Dorminvil
Ashton Dorminvil, a CCNY intern, at the Seneca Village excavation site in Central Park.

Seneca Dig
CCNY interns Victor Luna [left] and Randy Henry with Anthropology Professor Diana Wall, at the site of the 19th century Seneca Village.

For City College of New York biology major Ashton Dorminvil the lure of helping uncover the hidden history of a predominantly African-American 19th century settlement in what is now Central Park, was simply irresistible.

Mr. Dorminvil, a junior, is a member of a City College-Columbia University-New York University team analyzing artifacts unearthed from the Seneca Village archeological site in the park. The group, including three other CCNY undergraduates, spent eight weeks this summer excavating near 85th Street and Central Park West.

The artifacts are now being studied in a CCNY anthropology department lab. There, Mr. Dorminvil and his fellow interns, who include CCNY students Randy Henry, Victor Luna and Andrea Lee Torres, are cleaning, studying and listing the artifacts under the supervision of Dr. Diana diZerega Wall, professor of anthropology at CCNY and co-leader of the Seneca Village Project. 

The four undergraduates were among nine interns selected to work on the project from more than 60 applicants from New York public and private schools.  Of the five other interns, two are from Barnard College-Columbia University, two from New York University and one from Fordham University.
 
“Working on this project has given me an opportunity to learn a lot of research skills,” said Mr. Dorminvil, a Canarsie, Brooklyn resident.  “It’s also given me the opportunity to learn about African-American history that was like a hidden history, and, overall, it’s a great opportunity to do this kind of work and to work with a great group of people.”

The other CCNY interns, an interdisciplinary mix, talked of being similarly inspired to participate in the Seneca Project.

“I felt it was important to participate in the project because of my love for history, the chance to be involved in something historic and also the opportunity to engage in a rare learning experience,” said Randy Henry, a history major from the Bronx.



“I’ve taken a lot from this dig, especially a whole new take on the history of New York, the role African-Americans have played and that history has to be looked at from the perspectives of all who have experienced it, not just those in power,” the junior added.

The other CCNY interns on the project, anthropology majors Victor Luna and Andrea Lee Torres, got a rare opportunity to work on an archaeological dig just a few subway stops from their campus.

“One reason was because it’s in my field, and the other reason is because I really wanted to learn about this community that existed here,” Mr. Luna, a Bronx resident, remarked.  “It’s been interesting and fun because I never knew people lived in the park and I’m sure neither did many New Yorkers, some of whom, like my parents who came from the Dominican Republic, are immigrants.”

For Ms. Torres, a second year student in the Macaulay Honors College at CCNY, the project fulfilled her strong desire to participate in an archeological dig.

“I wanted to do a dig abroad but that costs money, so when I heard about this project close to home, I thought it was a really good opportunity,” said Ms. Torres, who lives in Woodside, Queens.
Jenna Coplin, a doctoral student at the CUNY Graduate Center and adjunct professor of anthropology at CCNY who is part of the team, lauded the students.

“They have been an incredible asset,” she said.  “They’ve been contributing to an ongoing research project and what they’ve contributed is valuable and essential for this project to move forward.”

Professor Wall, who was instrumental in launching the Seneca Village Project, said the students would produce research papers after analyzing the artifacts and participate in an open house at the excavation site.

“They will have posters of their research and talk about the excavation to the public,” she said.
For more information on the Seneca Village Project, visit: http://www.mcah.columbia.edu/seneca_village/ .

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