Monday, May 18, 2009
Digging Up Dirt: Secrets of Malaga Island
The Civil Rights Conference in Augusta today drew more than 1000 students on civil rights teams from more than 70 schools all around the state of Maine. University of Southern Maine archaeologist Nathan Hamilton and I facilitated two sessions called "Digging Up Dirt: Secrets of Malaga Island." We first reviewed with students the difference between evidence and interpretation. Then we invited them into a hands-on exploration of artifacts excavated from Malaga Island off the coast of Phippsburg, Maine. In the early 20th century, the mixed-heritage residents of Malaga Island - African American, Native American, and European - were targeted, successfully, for a forced eviction from the island. The more unfortunate were institutionalized at the Maine School for the Feeble Minded in Pownal. In at least one case, a family was forced to live on a houseboat finding little welcome wherever it went.
By investigating pottery shards, buttons, smoking pipe stems, medicinal bottle shards (see above), and fish, pig, and bird bone fragments, some one hundred and fifty students collectively offered up their interpretations of what life was like on Malaga Island a century ago. Their keen observation skills noted that artifact and historic photograph evidence told a very different story from the historic newspaper articles that accused the Malagaites of being "cave dwellers." Students walked away from the sessions having touched the same objects that were touched by Malaga residents some one hundred years earlier. Our hope is that they take their newly-found, personal connection to this story back to their schools and encourage others to explore the history of Malaga Island.
Teachers who wish to learn more about Malaga Island may choose to enroll in a course offered this summer through the USM College of Education's Professional Development Center or explore the resources at www.malagaislandmaine.com.