Margaret Purser

Professor Emerita of Anthropology

Margaret Purser
Margaret Purser

Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley 1987

Academic Interests

My current research (since 2000) has been in Levuka, Fiji. The “Levuka Cultural Landscape Program” was designed in collaboration with the National Trust of Fiji and the Levuka community to facilitate community participation in the nomination of Levuka to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Levuka is a 19th century Pacific colonial capital city and regional port with a rich, complex and diverse history, a well-preserved landscape and built environment, and a vibrant descendant community. This project combines GIS-based cultural landscape documentation, oral history, architectural recording, archaeological survey and archival research with locally based capacity-building workshops and community consultation. Community members identify and then help to documents the aspects of their history that they deem significant, and use this documentation to engage in the international heritage management process on a more equal footing.


Historical archaeology, archeological theory, material culture studies, GIS applications in cultural landscape studies, community-based research methodologies, comparative study of heritage policy frameworks; North America, Pacific Basin.


I got my BA from the College of William and Mary, with a double major in History and Anthropology. My UC Berkeley dissertation was on the material culture of a historic cattle ranching community in Paradise Valley, Nevada.  Since then I have worked on projects in the Sierra Nevada mining camps, in the inland maritime landscape of the Sacramento River Delta, and in the 19th century coffee and cattle plantations of Pacific coastal Guatemala.  My current research project is in Levuka, Fiji.  In addition to these more conventional field projects, I’ve been participating in a series of “Teaching American History” grants since 2004 with an interdisciplinary team of historians and education specialists.  I’m really interested in community-based heritage projects of all different kinds, and in the way that what we might call a ‘historical anthropology’ in all its many different forms seems to be expanding and taking on new dimensions in the applied fields of CRM, historic preservation, land management, planning, and community development. I also like experimenting with new digital technologies to capture and convey information about how people are connected to place, and to the past.

Selected Publications & Presentations

“Emptying the Magician’s Hat:  GIS Technology, Community-Based Research, and New Challenges for Genuine Representation”.  In Carmen, McDavid, and Skeates, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Public Archaeology, Oxford University Press.

“New Perspectives from the North: Comparative Opportunities and Challenges in an Archaeology of Eldorado”.  In Spude et al, eds., Eldorado! The Archaeology of Gold Mining in the Far North.  University of Nebraska Press, 2011.

“Plats and Place:  the Transformation of 19th Century Speculation Townsites on the Sacramento River”.  Co-authored with Noelle Storey. Historical Archaeology vol. 42, no. 1, pp. 26-46.

“What This Place Needs is a Few More Cats”. In “Forum:  What Are We Really Learning through Publicly Funded Historical Archaeology?”.  Historical Archaeology vol. 41, no. 2, pp. 62-66.

“The View from the Verandah:  Levuka Bungalows and the Transformation of Settler Identities in Later Colonialism”.  The International Journal of Historical Archaeology  vol. 7, no. 4, pp. 293-314.

Courses Taught