Sunday, June 8, 2008

Annapolis Charter 300 Symposium

I spent an enjoyable day Saturday with colleagues from the University of Maryland, the New York State Museum, the Annapolis History Consortium, and others. We discussed a wide range of subjects, not all of which were directly related to the 300th anniversary of the issuance of the City charter.

In my presentation, I tried to look at Annapolis archaeology from outside of the city; in fact, from the perspective of Port Tobacco. How do you systematically investigate the archaeology of an urban area covered in buildings, roads, and parking lots? Port Tobacco is easy by comparison: there are few buildings and lots of mowed lawns and fields. Also, how can an archaeologist avoid becoming insular, so focused on the urban area as to neglect the surrounding suburbs and rural areas that both support, and are supported by, the town? Again, Port Tobacco has a wealth of surrounding sites, including the homes of some of Maryland's most influential families of the Colonial and Early Republic periods, and we have made some progress in identifying and studying outlying sites through the controlled surface collection of the Edelen family fields south of town. Finally, when we have maps, photographs, and surviving buildings, what can we hope to learn through the relatively expensive and generally back-breaking work of archaeology? Despite extensive literatures for both communities, we know relatively little about the daily lives of their non-elite residents, the formation of neighborhoods, and the disruption of their respective environments by urban development.

I offered some suggestions for the City of Annapolis, but the phrase 'Port Tobacco' could substitute for that of 'Annapolis' in any point of my discussion.

Here are two of my recommendations for the City that I once served as consulting archaeologist:
1. Support year-round archaeology to enlarge our knowledge of the town and to promote public participation in the research. Archaeology in Annapolis, the brain-child of preservationist St. Clair Wright and University of Maryland professor Mark Leone, has conducted archaeological investigations in Annapolis for the last 25 years. Much of that work has been undertaken by the University's field school in archaeology several weeks each summer. I'd like to see that work supplemented by a weekend or two each month of professionally supervised, question-oriented, publicly accessible archaeology.

2. Enact legislation that extends the archaeological review of all development projects beyond the confines of the designated historic district to the entire city, including those lands recently annexed from the surrounding county; lands that were subject to the county's review process prior to annexation. This will give archaeologists the opportunity to identify and investigate important archaeological sites before they are destroyed or rendered inaccessible for research.


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