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Center for


Environment & Society

CRS 242: The Social Science of an Estuary

The focus of this piece of the semester is to explore the social aspects of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, including its people, history, and their complex relationships with one another and the environment.  Students will cover a wide range of topics, drawing on the disciplines of anthropology and archaeology, economics, geographic information systems, history, political science and sociology. Students will also explore the ways in which these approaches may be informed by other disciplines, such as those in the humanities and natural sciences.  Intersections between disciplines and integrating different kinds of knowledge are essential.  A substantial amount of learning will take place in the field with particular design and focus around the first Journey “Around the Chesapeake: A Sense of Place and History.”

Course Topics

  • The Birth of an Estuary - the Ice Age landscape and the great warming
  • The First Inhabitants — Paleoindians
  • The Archaic and Woodland Traditions
  • The Chesapeake on the Eve of Contact — environment, social structure, subsistence, trade and exchange
  • The European Influx
  • The Southern Chesapeake: Virginia in the Early Years — Roanoke, Jamestown, life & death in the New World
  • Emergence of a Distinctive Economy - Tobacco & Labor
  • The North: Maryland in the Early Years — Claiborne, the Calverts and St. Mary’s City
  • Shapes in the Landscape - Settlement patterns, rural and urban landscapes, and changing environments and economies
  • African Americans in the Chesapeake
  • Tidewater architecture
  • Foodways
  • Understanding the water - maritime trades and fisheries
  • Understanding the land — agriculture, development, and changing environments
  • Sense of Place — tradition and culture; “place attachment”
  • The Bay Today

Sample Activities

  • Understanding material culture — looking at artifacts (Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum collections, WC Archaeology Lab)
  • Replicating stone tools and prehistoric fishing materials
  • Foodways: prepare a Native American feast; crabbing and a crab feast; a colonial evening (Chowning’s Tavern); visits to an oyster festival and fish fry
  • Architectural exploration — field survey of changing styles
  • Working in a boat shop
  • Oral histories or interviews