Friday, January 23, 2015
Making Waves in Seattle!
Smiths Island field school students may not appreciate it, but they are the intellectual grand-children of Marley R. Brown III, long-time Director of Archaeological Research at Colonial Williamsburg and an important mentor to me as a graduate student at William and Mary in the 1990s. I recently returned from an all-day symposium reflecting on Marley's contributions to the field at this year's Society for Historical Archaeology Conference in Seattle. It was great to catch up with old friends and digging buddies from Williamsburg, Jamestown, Martin's Hundred, and Bermuda as we reflected on a career spent in service of advancing theory and field methods in archaeology. The fact that so many of us are tenured professors and established scholars speaks volumes to the rigorous training and tremendous opportunities that Marley crazily bestowed upon young untried (and in my case, somewhat undisciplined) grad students.
The symposium made me reflect on how the Good Dr. Brown has shaped my life: by introducing me to Bermuda as a place to study (archaeologically, historically, ethnographically), by training me in a context-based excavation approach that also incorporated new and emerging digital technologies, and by embracing a holistic, interdisciplinary approach to investigating the past that draws on the widest possible range of sources and evidence.
These themes were echoed over and over in other presenters' papers and made me realize how unique my graduate training at William and Mary was. For a decade or so, disciplinary boundaries between the History, Anthropology, English, and American Studies departments were blurry and low, leading to dynamic seminars where graduate students from all these fields mixed it up in discussions and collaborated on projects - all with one of the pre-eminent Living History museums in the country and the Omohundro Institute on our doorstep to use as intellectual playgrounds. Sadly, this heady mixing no longer occurs. Colonial Williamsburg's archaeology program is but a shadow of its former glory (no offense, Andy and Joanne!), disciplinary walls are back up on campus, and the sort of participatory experiential public history I benefited so greatly from is now hard to come by.
Future students know this: every time you fill out a context sheet, or piece plot an artifact, or digitize a site plan or profile, you are doing it the Colonial Williamsburg Way, which really means the Marley Brown Way.