The Chesapeake Regional Studies program offers a new course in material culture and experimental archaeology that includes an extraordinary week in Colonial Williamsburg.
This spring, Washington College students will have a rare opportunity to take a class that will help them explore what life was like for soldiers and civilians during the American Revolution—in a very hands-on way. While learning about the people who helped the United States gain independence, they’ll also act the part, trying their hands at traditional blacksmithing, firing an 18th century musket, and casting metal or hewing wood.
“The Revolutionary Chesapeake: Material Culture and Experimental Archaeology,” looks at the everyday material culture of the Chesapeake Bay during the American Revolution. John Seidel, the Lammot du Pont Copeland Associate Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies, and Charles Fithian, a lecturer in anthropology, will lead students on the exploration of what civilians used on an everyday basis, how those needs changed during the War for Independence, and how an American army was supplied. This course will also illustrate the contribution of those who have to often gone unrecognized, including women and African Americans who were part of the struggle.
This semester-long course, which grew out of weeklong course in Colonial Williamsburg Seidel and Fithian offered last spring, mixes traditional coursework with an active hands-on approach. Over spring break in March, the pair will again take students behind the scenes in Colonial Williamsburg to work with internationally recognized curators, skilled tradesmen, and specialists to study and use a wide range of 18th-century domestic and military material culture.
“What most people don’t appreciate is the incredible level of expertise these craftspeople have,” Seidel says. “They’ve gone through apprenticeships to learn a trade and, in addition, they have to do original document research. They possess an incredible depth of experience and an impressive knowledge of original sources, and in encounters with the general public they never get to talk about it. To impart the wisdom they’ve gained over the years and to talk in detail to people who are fascinated by what they do is really exciting for them. We heard from artisans on more than one occasion: ‘That was the best day on the job ever.’”
Cross-listed with American Studies and Black Studies, Revolutionary Chesapeake is limited to ten students and requires an instructor’s permission. Interested students should contact John Seidel, email@example.com or Charles Fithian, firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.