Saturday, April 26, 2014

The 2014 Field Season is Nearly Here!

Ah Bermuda!

After a very long and hard winter in upstate New York, I'm very much looking forward to a new, improved and expanded Smiths Island field school this year, running from May 26 to June 27. For the first time, I've opened up participation internationally beyond University of Rochester students and will have nine student participants, coming from California, Texas, Ohio, and New Jersey as well as New York. Leigh will be returning once again, but as a field supervisor and newly minted UR alumnus, and James, a Ph.D. student I'm supervising, will be another site supervisor (as an Australian, he'll have no trouble with Bermuda's driving patterns!).

The Bermuda National Trust and the St. George's Foundation have been, as usual, extremely supportive as we get ready to start up this year's investigations. I've already been down briefly in late March as a speaker for the Decorative Arts Trust's Spring Symposium (see for their fantastic program!), which helped me to sort out housing for this much larger group. I look forward to getting a lot of dirt moved with all this additional labor!

As was the case last year, we welcome the participation of teenage and adult Bermudian volunteers who can come out at least two or three days - please contact me at to learn more! 

Our main goals this year are to fully determine the house footprint of the Oven House site (which we now know to be quite a substantial building), get a handle on the Smallpox Bay cottage's use and dating and learn more about the possibility of an earlier post-and-beam building occupying the same site, return to the Cotton Hole Bight site and test to see if any original stratigraphy escaped the early 18th-century quarrying activity that effectively erased this early site's occupation layers, and, finally, test a recently discovered filled-in cave site, about which we know nothing. We will likely find a few more sites as well, since part of the normal field school curriculum involves students learning remote sensing and pedestrian survey techniques. All in all, we'll have plenty to do and can use all the help we can get!

Although summer field work usually trumps campus teaching, I'm just finishing up a truly fantastic semester teaching and leading undergraduate research. The students in my Pirates of the Caribbean course (our department's Gateway Seminar for majors) have been wonderful and really engaged and are producing some impressive original research papers (my favorite is an interactive map tracking various pirates' voyages simultaneously during the 1716-1726 period). My Benjamin Franklin's America students (an advanced undergraduate/graduate seminar) are turning in their final papers next week on topics ranging from 18th c. music and science to Anglo-Haudenosaunee diplomacy, the end of indentured servitude in America, and female printers' place in a masculine late colonial Public Sphere. And they did very cool earlier papers (with props!) on beer, taverns, gambling, and horse-racing.

My most rewarding class finished on Friday: Digital History: Building a Virtual St. George's. What originally was planned as an independent research course for two or three students turned into a full-blown course after 11 students signed on to helping me digitally map, research, and begin to 3D model St. George's as part of a long-term project to create a multi-year immersive and interactive Virtual St. George's in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Here is Mengting's model of Reeve Court, where the BNT-ARC's archaeology lab is:

Each student was responsible for at least one, and in some cases as many as six, historic properties to individually digitize already completed historical research, undertake further research, and create a model of the modern-day building on site. (We can then later "restore" structures to their earlier appearance in a target year by removing later additions and modifications.) Individually, the houses were really impressive and I was stunned how quickly the students went from never having worked with SketchUp software to producing highly detailed models (it helped that when I was down for the DAT symposium, I took exterior photos of all sides of the houses to provide visual reference points not in the BNT's Old House Survey forms). Together, though, the houses look even more amazing and suggestive of what a fully digitally rendered St. George's might look like:

Although our focus will be firmly on Smiths Island and archaeology, I'm sure students willing to take on a house will be able to - after all, we'll be actually living in or next to centuries-old buildings.

More in the weeks to come as we schedule activities and organize our days. It's going to be GREAT. And no more snow!

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