History in the making

Published 3:36 pm Friday, July 13, 2012

What better way to learn about history and its influence than literally digging in it?

That’s what a group of gifted high-school students did with a recent archaeological dig in Bath, North Carolina’s oldest incorporated municipality, which helps explain why it’s often referred to as Historic Bath. Those students, under the supervision of Charles Ewen, a professor in the department of anthropology and director of the Phelps Archaeology Laboratory at East Carolina University, literally unearthed bits of history during the dig, part of the Summer Ventures program. Not only do the students get hands-on experience with history, the public benefits from what those students found. The items they uncovered help to better tell the history of not only Bath, but also Beaufort County, North Carolina, the United States of America and, yes, the world.

The project also provided the students with more than just a closer, personal look at history. It exposed them to manual labor — getting dirty and sweaty. Many students learned they are capable of such work. That’s a lesson worth learning.

“There were virtually no complaints from the students. … One requested that I not tell her parents that she was capable of this level of manual labor,” Ewen said.

As much as the Palmer-Marsh House or St. Thomas Episcopal Church, the students and Ewen are fixtures in Bath, having studied, toiled and learned in the town.

Leigh Swain, site director at Historic Bath State Historic Site, understands and appreciates the value of the students’ work.

“I really want to commend them. … They were a hardworking bunch who had some really hot days to deal with,” Swain said. “We always welcome Dr. Ewen and ECU in their quest to responsibly perform archaeology on this state site. It helps us, which helps our staff tell a more accurate Bath story.”

We agree with Swain that if the students become good stewards and help protect and preserve the histories of the communities they live in, their summer spent in Bath will not be for naught.

What these students dig up can help us, too. What we learn from history can be used to help us have a better future.