Thursday, June 4, 2015

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program...

                Greetings and salutations. I’m Jesse Westendorp, one of the students participating in the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project. I’m going to be entering my senior year at Western Michigan University at the end of this summer. As a Public History major, I enrolled in the field school out of sheer professional interest. One can learn quite a lot by working with dusty tomes and the writings of long-dead poets, but I feel that if one does not, at least, have some experience in how the artifacts they work with are recovered then they are perhaps missing out on some context. My eventual goal is, after all, to gain employment at a museum or a historic site. The field school has thus far proven to be an enlightening and illuminating experience, as I had expected. Unfortunately, our digging was delayed this week and our regular schedule disturbed.
                The Fort St. Joseph site flooded over the weekend and our daily activities diverged as a result. I’m a sitting member of the FSJAP artifact display committee and under orders of the staff, we met during the resulting free time to discuss our plans for the upcoming open house. Many of you are probably familiar with the display cases that past open houses made use of. Myself and the other members of the committee, Luke and Carmell, certainly became familiar with them by the end of the meeting. We took some inspiration from their designs, but we sought to improve on them in many ways. First, we took note of their use of colorful construction paper, which had an overall effect of adding some visual spice to the display. We then noted however, that the effect was mitigated to a certain extent by the fact that the colors upon on the construction paper had faded slightly.  We elected to improve upon the design by making use of brighter colors when the time came to construct our own display case.
                But the precise design of the display case is of little use if one does know what is going in it. We compiled a list of artifacts that matched up with our exploration of the architecture of the Fort St. Joseph site. The artifacts we elected to make use of, or at least attempt to make use of can largely be broken up into two or three categories. The first includes building materials like stone and mortar, daub, and material used in the construction of posts. The second is the material that goes into the creation of locks and latches. These devices are made up of numerous complex parts, and the latches and locks themselves can be of differing types, resulting in a wealth of material. The third possible category, which is still under discussion, is the possibility of setting aside a section for the tools used to construct the housing, though this suggestion is very tentative and may well be cut before the final product is produced. We’ll also be attempting to describe the precise construction techniques the house depicted in our display employed. We hope you’ll find the subject matter as fascinating as we all do!
                During the afternoon, as our meetings were winding down, it was decided that, as the site was still waterlogged, that it would be appropriate to take a trip down to South Bend. The History Museum located at South Bend has a long history in the context of the Fort St. Joseph project. Some of the first artifacts unearthed from the site made their way to the museum well before Niles founded their own facility. They also host a lovely exhibit about the St. Joseph region. This was the primary attraction of our own tour of the facility. This exhibit is titled “Voyages: The History of the St. Joseph” region. It covers the history of the region from prehistory (dating back to 600 million years ago) to the 1600’s, the beginning of the French presence within the region, and finally, to the modern day.
Students observe the collection of Fort St. Joseph artifacts
at the History Museum in South Bend
(photo by Austin George)
                It seems that little expense was spared when it came to fleshing out the exhibit, as many parts of the history of the land are restored in convincing mockups of the terrain and scenery of the region. In the part of the exhibit that deals with the 1600’s for example, one would find depictions of hardwood forests and grasslands. In another part of the exhibit, titled “New Order of the Land” which deals with the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, you see depictions, both textual and otherwise, of the founding of the South Bend trading post and the forcible removal of the native Americans in the region. One then moves on to an impressive recreation of the marshes that were drained dry during the march of industry in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is also worth noting that the exhibit contained a half hour, award-winning documentary on the African American community within the region. Due to our limited time however, were not able to partake fully in this.
             The final part of the exhibit, titled “Wheels of Power” tells the tale of the region's continued growth well into the 19th century! As you can tell from the summary above, the coverage of the Fort St. Joseph region is extensive and quite in-depth. If you have an interest in learning more than a mere summary can tell you, I’d suggest you drop by the museum yourself and take a look. 

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