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Anthropology | Summer Field School: Great Dismal Swamp

The Great Dismal Swamp Landscape Study

May 13–June 17, 2015

2015 Application (Deadline: April 15)

Sample Field School Syllabus, 2011

For full consideration please apply to the 2015 Dismal Swamp Field School no later than April 15, 2015 (and please see registration notes below).

American University and the Department of Anthropology are pleased to invite students to participate in the 6th Great Dismal Swamp Archaeology Field School to start during the early summer of 2015. The Field School will take place in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) located in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina (near Norfolk, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach, VA, and Elizabeth City, NC). This summer’s course represents a continuation of the Great Dismal Swamp Landscape Study (GDSLS), an initiative started by the Project Director, Dr. Dan Sayers, in 2001. We will be working in close partnership with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the stewards of the Refuge, and maintaining and developing interactive dialogue with the broader public. A main research focus for the GDSLS in 2015 will be on further developing our understanding of the internal dynamics of resistant and generally self-reliant communities in the swamp interior (composed primarily of Indigenous Americans and African-Americans who permanently removed themselves from conditions of enslavement, also known as maroons). We are also interested in the impacts of historical processes of colonialism (1600s), race-based enslavement (1700s), and profitable development of natural resources (1800s) on the swamp and its resistance communities.

In 2015, our fieldwork will emphasize site discovery and archaeological survey rather than the more intensive excavations at known sites that we have done in past AU field schools. Participants will share in the excitement of recording previously unknown archaeological sites while also helping us to vastly increase our understanding of pre-Civil War swamp life and population dynamics within the swamp’s political economy.

Great Dismal Swamp Field School; photo by Cyndi Goode

Photo: Cyndi Goode.

While subject to modification, the general course schedule represents a rigorous, challenging and fun program. We will spend approximately 4.5 weeks doing archaeological fieldwork in the Refuge; this will include daily (M-F) excursions into the Refuge (generally 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in field) to sites in North Carolina and Virginia. We will occasionally also visit other field schools as well as some nearby public historical interpretation sites (e.g., Colonial Williamsburg, James River Plantations, etc.) on scheduled days and unexpected rain out days. Laboratory work, such as artifacts cleaning, sorting, and preliminary analysis will also be a part of the class and will take place at the team house during evenings and weekend days. Evening discussion groups and lectures will also be part of the educational and social atmosphere of the course as will Saturday research-related projects.

As one of the only active extensive excavation programs that focuses on maroons and swamp communities in historical North America, the GDSLS Field School will provide students with unparalleled opportunities to help piece together Diasporic resistance and cultural histories that have great contemporary significance and resonance in public, academic, conservation/preservation, and government sectors in the U.S. and beyond.

Student Experience, Opportunities, and Benefits

Students will have ample opportunities to gain solid experiences and training in a variety of aspects of archaeological fieldwork including, but not limited to, the following:

• Archaeological Pedestrian Survey and Excavation Methods
• Research Design Development
• Research Photography, Mapping, and Data Recordation
• Global Positioning System (GPS)
• Total Station and Precision Survey
• Precontact- and Postcontact-era Artifact Identification
• Interdisciplinary research methods
• Remote landscape navigation
• Methods of cultural resources conservation and stewarding
• Being a contributing part of a research team
• Public interaction and interpretation
• Connecting anthropological theory with real world data and information

In gaining such experiences, students will be paving the way to their future employment in public, academic, and private archaeology research. Students who are not planning on a career in archaeology will find the experience of learning the methods and practices of archaeology and working as part of a research team in a vast natural setting to be rewarding and beneficial for any career and personal paths. Participating students will play key roles in helping the GDSLS to continue to generate one of the most detailed archaeological data sets available in the United States that pertains to resistant African American maroon and Indigenous American swamp communities.

Field School Registration, Logistics, and Costs*

Generally, students should register through American University for ANTH 560 for 3 or 6 credit hours. Costs will include tuition as well as a Field School fee that is not to exceed $600. For the duration of the field school, we will be staying on property outside of the Refuge (probably in well-appointed crew cabins at a local campground) but within a reasonable distance for daily travel to and from sites. More details regarding costs and the logistics of accommodations, transportation, and food are provided in field school documents (accessible through links on this page or from the Project Director). Please contact the Project Director if you have any questions or concerns about the costs, logistics, and/or details of the program.

Admission into the 2015 Field School is by permission of the Project Director and students wishing to be considered for participation should submit a completed Field School Application to the Project Director by mail no later than April 15, 2015 (applications sent by email must have the required participant signature). Please be aware that any course can be cancelled if enrollees are too few in number. So for the sake of the course, interested students should apply as early as possible in the spring (e.g., March). Applications are available on this page or can be obtained from the Project Director.

Please send applications and direct any Field School–related questions to:

Dr. Daniel O. Sayers
Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology
Hamilton Hall, Room 101
American University
Washington DC 20016

* In developing this program over the next few months, some aspects of the 2015 Field School detailed here and in course documents are subject to change. Those interested in participating are urged to periodically check this page for alerts to any such changes. Those who have submitted applications will be notified of changes directly by email or telephone.

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