Michelle Damian  |   Published April 27, 2020

Students Create Maritime Museum Exhibit

Maritime Archaeology (HIST 293) students researched the ship construction and historical background of the ship model collections at Chicago’s Field Museum. Their work has become a featured exhibit on the Museum of Underwater Archaeology.
  • Field Museum curator Jaime Kelly introduces the ship model collection to students in HIST 293.
  • HIST 293 students choose their ship models
  • HIST 293 students record ship models
  • HIST 293 students record ship models
  • HIST 293 students record ship models
  • HIST 293 students record their ship models
  • HIST 293 students record their ship models

How do you do fieldwork on a shipwreck when you aren’t certified to scuba dive and don’t even live near a large body of water? Prof. Michelle Damian’s maritime archaeology class solved this problem by going to Chicago’s Field Museum. There, Head of Anthropological Collections Jaime Kelly provided access to their ship model collection. Students each selected a model as a “proxy shipwreck” to research and record, simulating the research done on an actual archaeological site. 

Most models had only minimal information associated with them, usually consisting of not much more than the geographic origin of the model. Students needed to first record their model: taking measurements, drawing and photographing it, and recording any information from the museum’s files about their boat. They were aware of the pitfalls of working with models as opposed to actual ships, as there was no guarantee that the model maker was working with accurate dimensions originally. Students needed to conduct their future research on the construction and historical background of the vessels with those limitations in mind.

The final step to this project incorporated public outreach. Students selected images associated with their vessels – either photos they themselves took, or images they found in their research process – and wrote museum labels. The Museum of Underwater Archaeology is now hosting the students’ work as a featured exhibit.

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