‘What am I doing here, and who do these people think they are?’: Reflections on my time in Bermuda and my coming-of-age as a historical archaeologist
It’s orientation week for incoming graduate students at Yale University. As an event organizer and facilitator this year, I’m getting to mingle with a lot of eager, bright-eyed scientists, doctors-to-be, and library fiends. I love meeting people, but I dread the moment I hear, “So, what do you do?” directed at me. My academic existentialism kicks in and the only answer I can muster is usually somewhere along the lines of, “Well… I’m a professional, certified, 100% free range ancient dumpster diver.” That usually gets a bit of a laugh and a comment about how dinosaurs are really cool and Indiana Jones must be my idol. But, all jokes aside—really, what do archaeologists do?
So, we’ve reached the point at which we must amend the question: What do historical archaeologists do? I set out to find the answer to this question almost two months ago, when I arrived in Bermuda with no idea what to expect from a crew of (mostly) historians. Apparently historical archaeologists like to play Dungeons and Dragons. But they also dig, just like regular ol’ archaeologists, and they spend a lot of time in the National Archives, unlike regular ol’ archaeologists.
What historical archaeologists set out to accomplish is to fill in the blanks where history fails us, or where archaeology is unable to unearth the whole story. All in all, historical archaeology is a field of study in which different modes of interpretation mingle and inform each other in the hopes that we’ll be able to paint a much more coherent picture of our recent past. I have found that my role as a historical-archaeologist-in-training is to straddle the line between two disciplines that, quite frankly, could use more straddling. I also feel a responsibility to incorporate what we call community archaeology into my research goals—that is, figuring out ways to involve the general public and groups with an invested, and often deeply personal, interest in a site in the gathering, dissemination, and preservation of the knowledge I and my colleagues seek to uncover.
|Attendees of the BNT/SGF public site tours|
Although my research deals with the history and cultures of Mexicans and Afro-Mexicans in the gulf coast of Mexico, and not with Bermuda’s early history, I joined the Smith’s Island team to learn about the methods and theoretical underpinnings that make up study of colonial English America and can inform the ways in which we study colonialism in Spanish America.
So, what do I do? I’m a semi-professional, half-certified, 100% free range historical dumpster diver, and I sift through the hottest gossip of the 17th and 18th centuries. I aspire to teach what I learn to others, and to have others teach me in return. And when not in the field, I enjoy being in the library, reading or typing away on a clunky laptop.
Karemy Valdez is a second-year graduate student at Yale. She enjoys Dark and Stormies, bonfires on beaches, entertaining fellow diggers with fun stories and putting chili powder and lime on virtually every food she encounters. Yes, even watermelon.