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 Nautical Archaeology of the Americas


Spring Semester 2011

Seafaring in the New World, from the Viking Age to the Golden Age of Sail




Class notes

Q. 1st exam

Q. 2nd exam


1st Assignment

2nd Assignment



Instructor: Dr. Filipe Vieira de Castro
Class Time: Tuesday & Thursday, 3:55 P.M. - 5:10 P.M.
Room: PSYC, Rm. 108
Office hours: 2-5 Monday or by appointment (Anthropology Bld. 105A).



Intellectual content
Howard Zinn that once said that if we did not know our history we would have to trust our politicians. Archaeology is the study of human cultures through their material remains and environmental data, and a good complement to history. Historians try to understand what happened long ago from what people say happened. And it is easy to imagine how sometimes witnesses were too close to the events to be able to convey a fair account. Other times, often times, there are plenty of incentives not to write the truth as we know it. Winston Churchill said that history is written by the victors. Most people prefer not to leave behind full accounts of embarrassing stories and situations for posterity.

This course is an overview of the history of North America seen through its watercraft. It is impossible to imagine the history of the United States without ships and boats, from Columbus' caravels and 'naos' to the Mayflower, four or five generations later, or the merchantmen that supplied the thirteen colonies, the warships that won the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, the magnificent ships of the Golden Age of Sail, or the ships, boats, and submarines of the Civil War.

The course is divided into two sections. The first five lectures are an introduction to nautical archaeology, explaining basic concepts and introducing some vocabulary. The last two lectures of this section entail a discussion of the importance of nautical and underwater cultural heritage, the problems of its conservation and study, and the differences between archaeologists and treasure hunters. The second section consists of an overview of the watercraft used in the North American continent upon Christopher Columbus's arrival, the ships and boats brought by the Europeans, and their development from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

Since ANTH318 is an elective course I expect all students to enjoy it, come to class, participate, and take the opportunity to learn and think for pure pleasure.

I do not believe any students will die poor and lonely if they do not master the contents of my ANTH318 - Nautical Archaeology of the Americas. However, the course is an opportunity to make cross-curricular connections among many educational disciplines.

My main goal in class is to emphasize Bertrand Russell's idea that "what is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite."

The study of the past is always tainted with our particular beliefs on the subject under analysis. Independent, logical reasoning is our only hope to form a fair idea about things that happened long ago.


Teaching strategy
I lecture in all classes save two, in which I show documentaries. I have prepared a PowerPoint presentation for each lecture. I encourage dialogue.

All notes are available on this website from the beginning of the semester, together with sample questions for preparation for the exams, timelines, a schedule of classes, videos and exams, and a comprehensive list of the required readings.

To stimulate students' interest in literature, I include short texts of known authors in the reading packets. There is Mark Twain when we discuss steamships, Jules Verne when we talk about the gigantic Great Eastern, Herman Melville when we study whaling ships, and Charles Dickens when we learn about canal boats and the conquest of the West.


Learning assessment
This course requires three take home assignments and three exams. There are extra-credit essays for those who are willing to walk an extra mile. Attendance is not regularly recorded, but I sometimes give unannounced quizzes. I seek student input before, during, and after class. I frequently ask them to write down questions that they would like to see asked in the exams.


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Last Updated: 10/14/08