Monthly Archives: February 2017

The Archaeology of Vulnerability: Hurricane Katrina and archaeology in the midst of disaster

As Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the Gulf Coast in late August of 2005, 1.2 million people across the Southeastern United States received evacuation orders. Most fled the storm, but many stayed behind; close to 2000 people lost their lives as a result, the vast majority of those fatalities occurring in New Orleans.  Katrina is recognized as the largest disaster ever to occur in the United States, causing hundreds of billions of dollars in damages and disrupting wide swathes of the Southeast; many communities have still not recovered to their pre-Katrina conditions. One of the reasons I chose to center my thesis on archaeology and disaster recovery after hurricanes is the immensity of Katrina’s impact; the effects of the eight-day storm have been widespread and slow to resolve. The hurricane alone is not responsible for the damage and destruction, however. Without people a hurricane is just a windy storm that lashes the coastline; once people are placed in the path of danger, and given those people’s position in relation to any number of societal statuses – their race, education, and income, for example – the hurricane becomes the precipitating factor in a disaster which, particularly in New Orleans, had been [Read More]

Stewards of Memory: Terrorism and Public Archaeology

Public archaeology is deeply connected to issues of heritage. Our National Register of Historic Places, our archaeological reviews, our love of old things are all tied back to how physical manifestations of memory shape our experience and identity. We use museums, memorials, and mansions to construct a story of our shared past, to idealize and sometimes idolize our history. Many of the moments we memorialize are surrounded with death and devastation – the National Battlegrounds of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, for instance, or monuments to the victims of the RMS Titanic or the Donner Party. When people die, our urge is to preserve their memory, to mark the loss somehow. This urge is intensified when lots of people die, or when the circumstances of their deaths are unexpected or violent. To rise into national consciousness, the tragedy must appear to be out of the control of the victims, further heightening the loss of unfulfilled potential. FEMA is tasked with providing support and assistance, including the work of archaeologists, to survivors – people who have gone through what is likely to be the worst moments of their lives, who have lots loved ones, homes, and belonging and who are experiencing [Read More]