Examining the St. Mary’s River: A Project, A Friend, and Microfunding

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During the summer of 2006, the first year after graduate school, I had one of the most professionally rewarding summers of my career. Not a month earlier, serendipity put me in the office of Dr. Henry Miller, the Director of Research at Historic St. Mary’s City. Henry, who received his PhD from Michigan State University and who also happened to be a long-time friend of my late grandfather, gave me a tour of St. Mary’s City, and, the following week, sent me an email containing an offer to work on their 19th century site component for my dissertation. I hadn’t even completed my first full year as a grad student, and I had a fully excavated site to do my research on. To top it all off, he had money for me to spend multiple summers in St. Mary’s City, Maryland. I have crossed streets carefully since then, expecting karma to kick in via a school bus, or something.

A lot happened that summer, including meeting the woman I’m going to marry. I also volunteered on Historic St. Mary’s City’s field school, in order to gain more experience, but also to learn the methods that HSMC employs when excavating, which has obvious applications when analyzing work they’ve already excavated. There were a number of talented students on that field school, many who are still involved in archaeology, and one in particular, Scott Tucker, who is currently enrolled in a PhD program in underwater archaeology at Southampton. He, too, is conducting research at St. Mary’s City, and taking advantage of a part of the site that has received little attention: the St. Mary’s River.

Scott and I have maintained a solid friendship since he graduated from St. Mary’s College. He obtained his Master’s Degree a few years later from Southampton, looking at the use of waterways by African Americans in United States (I was humbled and surprised when I realized he had thanked me in the acknowledgements). Recently, he was part of our session about the archaeology of Historic St. Mary’s City at the SHA Conference in Baltimore, where he outlined his plans for research in the St. Mary’s River.

By all accounts, this will be a wonderful project. Scott plans to build on the limited underwater survey that was conducted in the 1970s, investigating what could potentially be a 17th century ship located at the bottom of the river. If this is identified as such, it would be the oldest identified Europoean ship in the region, and would help to shed more light on the advent of British mercantile trade, particularly the role that St. Mary’s City, Maryland’s first capital, played within it. You can read a bit more about his plans on his blog.

As Scott comes up on his first summer of fieldwork, he hasn’t been as lucky as I was after my first year. While he has the support of Dr. Miller and HSMC, there are not sufficient funds to conduct the fieldwork necessary to investigate the site properly and completely. Underwater archaeology is costly, requiring expensive equipment, both to excavate and to conserve. So, Scott has taken to the interwebs, to ask for our help in giving him the initial funds to begin his dissertation work, following the lead of other archaeologists who have used microfunding as a tool for supporting their research. Having shared excavation units with Scott, had multiple discussions about his work, and read his scholarship, I would like you to consider this to be my endorsement of Scott’s abilities, and I would encourage you to visit his donation page and make a contribution. The beauty of microfunding is that any contribution counts: you can give $5, or you can give $5,000. As graduate students, and archaeologists, know too well, every little bit helps.


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About Terry Brock

Terry is an archaeologist who lives in Virginia with his fiancee and is writing his PhD at Michigan State University. In his spare time, he writes for Gradhacker, an Inside Higher Ed Blog, and tweets @brockter. His favorite thing he's ever written is Swimming Buddies and a Pipe Cleaner Necklace.