Monday, November 19, 2012

A better present, a bolder future

Three GDMF'in' months later, the diverticulitis is getting it's a** kicked via at-home IV.   I have a "Midline" running 16 cm into my left arm, and at roughly 6:00PM every day I have a routine of sterilization, saline push, and Ertapenem.  I am no longer dependent on Oxycodone and chewable Pepto Bismol to make it through my day.  I go back to work tomorrow!  And I can tolerate rum and lime juice without feeling hungover within minutes.


My illness has allowed me the luxury of time and thus a flurry of blog posts, from Logan songs to Logan story bits.  Now I'm back in the woodshed.  I'm two chapters away from completing The Far Side of the World, and I got The Reverse of the Medal from Half Price Books yesterday, as well as the 'last zombie pirate action figure' for $2.  But that's not the coolest thing.

How is this not Heaven?

All ye brethren know that the creme of maritime museums is Mystic Seaport.  Over the summer I noticed that they had a one-month institute for teachers called "The American Maritime People" under the auspices of the Frank C. Munson Institute of American Studies.  This made me drool:  stay in an old building at the seaport, take a series of seminars from the top names in American maritime history, gain access to the Seaport's archives, tour local sites and ships.  Being a Left Coast dude with no money, there was no way I could go.  But I've done the next best thing:  I'm going to reproduce it right here.  The syllabus was put online, and "Santa" (my parents) are gifting all the books.  Better yet, I have established direct communication with Dr. Glenn S. Gordinier, co-director of the Institute, who has given me direct encouragement and promised a copy of the course reader.  I have also added a few extras, namely Konstam's bio of Blackbeard and Clifford's account of the Whydah.

The point is this.  Over the next several months I will be homeschooling myself in American maritime history.  There will be a lot of reading.  I am academic enough to know that reading is not sufficient, and so with a little guidance from Dr. Gordinier I will also be writing "papers" on the course material, with no fear at all of scholarly debate.  And who gets to read these first:  YOU!

The Munson Room

My Christmas present is the open door I've been looking for, the way to get back into the scholarly sports, if you will, but with a new game.  To quote Dr. Gordinier:  "I can relate to your interest in the maritime past.  After ten years of teaching public school, I changed my career because, having taken the Munson courses, determined that I wanted to work at Mystic Seaport.  I've been here now 33 years making the salary of a staffer at a not-for-profit, but never regretting the move."

I hope you will join me in this new phase of Lou's adventures, one that damned well might be life-changing...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A few words about historical archaeology

Dr. James Deetz, Master of the Parenthetical Comment
One of the chief reasons I am here (and thus you are here) is my academic background.  Way back yonder, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology, Magna Cum Laude, from the University of California, Berkeley.  I learned about the (pre-)history of California, the great era of the Maya, and even "circumpolar" peoples like the Inuit and the Sami.  But the class that set my course was James Deetz' "Introduction to Historical Archaeology."  This made sense, really, as I grew up on back roads and trails to ghost towns of the American West, from California's 49'er country to the high and lost in the Colorado Rockies.  Being in California, I could have focused on the mission chain, all of which I have visited and which I studied a little while apprenticing at what was then still called the Lowie Museum.  Instead, my major adviser was Kent Lighfoot, who was doing the archaeology of the oft-ignored Russian impact on U.S. history and digging at its southernmost reach, Fort Ross.  He, in turn, had a grad student named Aron Crowell, now director of the Arctic Studies Center's Alaska office in Anchorage (Pauline, if ye ever by some truly odd chance run into Aron, say Lou from Berkeley remembers him fondly).  And so I spent two adventurous, soggy, and life changing summers digging at Three Saints Bay, Kodiak Island, the first Russian American colony in North America.  I then wrote my Honors Thesis, "Elderberry Wine and Other Necessities," which argued, based on a combination of archaeobotanical evidence and local ethnography, that, in the absence of vodka, the Russians were distilling the local plants.  I then endured a year of grad school at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, before realizing that the discipline was veering down a road I didn't want to be on...more on this in a moment.  All of this has, in a way, circled back with my interest in maritime culture and pirates, whether it be shipwrecks or Port Royal.  So, after all that preamble/CV, I want to take a few minutes to discuss the field I love, which I may have left officially but still have dalliances with.

Fort Ross in 1828.  Outside the wall were the homes of seal hunters brought all the way from the Aleutians, and where the archaeology has been focused.

Naturally, historical archaeology is defined in contrast to prehistoric archaeology.  Unfortunately, this distinction is troublesome.  It might seem simple to say that the former implies the archaeology of historical time, while the latter is the archaeology of people and places before there was a historical record.  The problem is that "history" as it is commonly perceived prioritizes written history, but culture always has memory.  Every culture has at least oral history.  Many cultures will have some representational history--Mayan glyphs, southwestern pictograms, Plains hide paintings--yet these are not, by most classifications, within the purview of historical archaeology.  This also means that creating a numeric break from prehistory to history will vary from society to society and even from site to site.  Thus, another distinction is often made between "pre-contact" and "post-contact"--that is, before and after the coming of European colonizers; the term "Pre-Columbian," referring of course to Columbus, is often used to generalize pre-contact.  "Contact" was in most cases a huge, and often catastrophic event for indigenous cultures.  However, this distinction gives that moment premier priority, a distinction that might not be shared by that culture.  Do Arawaks consider the coming of Columbus the single most important event in their culture, the Hawaiians the arrival of Captain Cook, the Powhatans the coming of John Smith?