Monday, April 3, 2017

Partnering with the Living History Community at Fort St. Joseph

Bob Myers (center) and other reenactors gathered at the 2015
Archaeology Open House
As part of Western Michigan University’s Anthropology in the Community course we, Jenifer Blouin, Josh Schneider, and Jeff Nau, are exploring the relationships between the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project (FSJAP) and the Living History Community in the Great Lakes region. Two of us, Jenifer and Josh, are graduate students in the History Department, and Jeff is a graduate student in the Anthropology Department. We define the Living History Community as the re-enactors, craftsmen, and other formal interpreters of the history of Fort St. Joseph. Currently, the Living History Community participates in Fort St. Joseph mainly through the annual Archaeology Open House and the Fort St. Joseph Museum, which displays artifacts found at the Fort. Our goal with this project is to find ways to improve and expand the collaborative relationship between the Living History Community and the FSJAP. The annual Archaeology Open House has provided a forum for the Living History Community to interpret the history of Fort St. Joseph, and archaeological work done at the Fort has in turn informed the historical accuracy of living history interpreters’ work. Specifically, re-enactors have been able to educate visitors at the Open House about the Fort and early American ways of life. We are interested in exploring the ways in which the FSJAP and the Living History Community can maintain and further develop their working relationship.

Located in Niles, the Fort St. Joseph Museum displays artifacts
unearthed at the archaeological site
So far, our group has met with Christina Arseneau, the director of the Niles History Center. She has proven instrumental in our understanding of the state of Fort St. Joseph history in Niles, including its events, exhibitions, needs, and goals such as new exhibits at the museum, the annual summer archaeology lecture series, the Open House, and the desire for increased attendance at these events. We have also spoken with Bob Myers, an accomplished re-enactor who assists in the selection of other re-enactors for the Open House. He informed us of the history of re-enacting in the Niles community. In the past, there was a large re-enacting event that was popular, but once the archaeological work began it failed to draw attention to the archaeological work done at the excavation site. Now, Myers helps to select a smaller group of re-enactors who are knowledgeable about the historical context of the fort, and successfully engage the public in both the history and the material culture of Fort St. Joseph. We plan to continue having these discussions with the Living History Community and those working with the FSJAP, with the goal of finding ways to increase collaborative opportunities.

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