Shipwrecks and Seafaring, Piracy and Plunder: An Introduction to Maritime Archaeology

Boat Model, PM 969-1-60/12793

Thinking Like Archaeologists

This gallery is produced by students in “Shipwrecks and Seafaring, Piracy and Plundering: An Introduction to Maritime Archaeology,” a Harvard University anthropology course offered in Spring 2016. Since as a class we could not go diving on an actual shipwreck, I wanted to find another way to give the students an opportunity to think like an archaeologist investigating a site. After consulting with the Academic Partnerships staff at the Peabody Museum, I realized that we had potential “shipwreck sites” available in the museum collections: a number of very detailed ship models. Students chose a model and, throughout the semester, researched and analyzed their “shipwreck,” just as an archaeologist on an active excavation might do to identify an unfamiliar artifact or ship. The assignment was in 3 parts. In “Historical Background” you will find students researching the historical background and culture context of that ship’s use. “Ship Construction” discusses important construction features of the vessels. Finally, “Museum Label” features a museum label for the ship model, where all of the information the students have discovered about their model is distilled down for an audience walking past a case, or clicking through links.

The last step of any ethical archaeological excavation is the publication of the information discovered. This is a multi-tiered process: we must produce publications for a scholarly audience, but we also must provide the general public with an accessible introduction to our work. I invite you to browse the pages created by these student archaeologists, and enjoy the different perspectives they bring to their research on the Peabody Museum ship models.

Michelle Damian
Lecturer in Anthropology
Postdoctoral Fellow, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies


The Peabody Museum is excited about this partnership with Professor Damian and her students. The Academic Partnerships department at the Peabody provides unique hands-on, collections-based opportunities for innovative teaching, research, and enrichment. With this project, we gained a unique opportunity of our own for innovative learning, as this was the first time we have engaged with students in this way, and shared with the public what we have done together.

In this assignment, students worked with historic collections and encountered historic museum practices. This means they may have found information they determined to be incomplete, or even incorrect. Part of the research process includes contextualizing information coming from a different time, place, and mode of thinking. It was fantastic to see what the students (re)discovered!

Diana Loren, Lainie Schultz and Emily Rose

Academic Partnerships Department, Peabody Museum


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