At the St. Augustine Historical Society we, "acquire, preserve, and interpret the historical resources of St. Augustine and its sphere of influence." On a daily basis, our staff both at the Research Library and the Oldest House Museum Complex engages our mission statement. For the moment, I'd like to hone in on that last goal--the act of interpretation.
We enact interpretation through the tours and exhibits of The Oldest House Museum Complex. Our docents work to showcase early Spanish colonial life to locals and tourists alike.
There is, however, another side to interpretation: lectures. For years, the Society has been fortunate enough to connect with scholars from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and specializations. Every year, we generate a lecture series for the community because we are deeply invested in exploring the nuances that make this place home. At the Society, we have the opportunity to collaborate and engage with some pretty amazing, insightful people.
I'd like to take this time to introduce our next speaker, Donn Colee Jr. He will be delivering his talk "Towers in the Sand" on March 2, 2017 at the Flagler Room. He's offering a book signing at 6:30 pm and books will be available for purchase! (We love a good book signing and chance to talk with an author!)
Part of the impetus of this particular blog series is to showcase the diverse fields of study that engage St. Augustine and how these perspectives help locate our city in larger histories. Colee's talk engages social history and specifically considers the Florida ecology of broadcasting. His talk gives us new ways to understand Northeast Florida. You can check out his formal bio by clicking here.
What drew you to your discipline?Broadcasting is in my blood. My mother and father met while both were working at St. Augustine radio station WFOY in the mid-1940s. My dad was a jive-talking disc jockey; my mom, still attending Ketterlinus High School, was the town crier, ringing a bell at noon and reading announcements about area events.
We moved to Orlando when my father got a new job at WLOF, then built Orlando's second TV station, Channel 9. I hung around the station as a youngster, dreaming of the day I could be in broadcasting.
My parents divorced, and dad got a bigger broadcasting job up north. I stayed in Orlando with my mother and sisters, but those broadcasting dreams continued as a young teen, playing DJ with my phonograph in my room. I finally got a job at the same station my father had worked at years before, except now I was just out of high school and a rock 'n' roll DJ on Orlando's top radio station.
The Vietnam War interrupted my career, and while I didn't serve in the war zone I spent four years in the Navy, some of those working part-time in Armed Forces Radio. When I returned to the states, I went into the advertising business before being recruited to back to broadcasting at the CBS television station serving the West Palm Beach market I served in marketing, community relations, and senior management positions--and started writing my book.
What is your research process like?A lot more difficult than I first thought. I felt I needed to trace every radio and television station in the state back to their origins--only to find many changed call letters like most of us change socks! So I spent about 5 years researching station history, and created what is the only single-source database of every station in the state. That became the backbone of the book--then I needed to find the "people stories" and social history that would make it interesting. I had tremendous support from local historical societies and libraries, and through them connected with broadcasting pioneers and current leaders throughout the state. They told me their stories--I just wove them together.
Why this topic?Broadcasting touches almost every person in the state (and nation) every day of their lives--but like the air we breathe we seldom give it a second thought. Through this book I hope to help people remember the good times they had with their favorite stations and personalities, and that making those connections will help ensure the future of local broadcasting. I also wanted to show how broadcasting is woven into the social fabric of our state.
What is the best part about your field?When done well, with serving the listener/viewer top of mind, radio and television can have a significant impact on people's lives and their communities. I was fortunate to have served in some of broadcasting's finest days. I hope through my book to empower listeners/viewers to expect more from their local stations, and for station owners and managers to meet and exceed those expectations.
Our August 2016 Book of the Month is Margaret's Story by New York Times best selling author Eugenia Price.
Margaret's Story is the final in the Florida Trilogy. The novel follows Margaret Seton and her burgeoning romance with widower Lewis Fleming. Her spirit and love is challenged by the turbulent events of the latter half of the nineteenth century: the Seminole uprisings, Florida's statehood, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. We will offer 10% off of this book in stores throughout the entire month of August.
Over the past several weeks, I have been following the active dig at the Tovar House. While the excavation process for 2016 has concluded, the research is far from over.
The multiyear research investigation differs from other research projects because it is truly an interdisciplinary endeavor. The archaeological, architectural and historical perspectives have fueled the progression of the research. The grants awarded by the Historic St. Augustine Research Institute has allowed for these top scholars to be in direct conversation with each other with the ultimate goal of a greater understanding of early colonial St. Augustine, and in particular, the transition from Spanish to British in the mid eighteenth century.
Though all the excavation sites have been filled in, there are more opportunities for research. Now, instead of reporting from the dig site, I intend to keep you looped in on the other aspects of our continued investigation.
We have invited dendrochronologist Dr. Henri Grissino-Mayer to examine the Tovar House as well as the Gonzalez-Alvarez House. Dendrochronology is particularly useful in our understanding of the older properties under our care because it allows us to more accurately date building materials. In turn, this information allows us to understand more about the time period and the residents of the house.
Our July 2016 Book of the Month is Don Juan McQueen by New York Times best selling author Eugenia Price.
Don Juan McQueen is the second book in the Florida Trilogy. A friend of Washington and Jefferson, John McQueen is forced to flee to Spanish East Florida to escape imprisonment. He assumes a new identity--Don Juan McQueen--and becomes a confidant of the Spanish governor. His new identity comes at a price though; John is forced to leave his wife and children behind. Tension mounts as he tries to reconcile his past and present lives.
We will offer 10% off of this book in stores throughout the entire month of July.
At the St. Augustine Historical Society, we have a small staff that is responsible for carrying out our mission to "acquire, preserve, and interpret the historical resources of St. Augustine." Over the next few weeks, we will be introducing them.
My name is Jeanette Vigliotti and I serve as the Digital Media Specialist. If you have been to our website, read our blog, or have scrolled through our social media accounts, then we've actually "met" before. I curate our digital content and maintain the integrity of the St. Augustine Historical Society across various media platforms. Additionally, I will assist in incorporating digital technology into future exhibit space.
SAHS: Where are you from?
JV: This question always gives me a moment of pause. I am from Mahopac, a hamlet of Carmel, New York.It's a small, colonial town rich with Revolutionary War history. I moved to Port Charlotte, Florida when I was in fifth grade. In sixth grade, we visited St. Augustine for a family vacation and I knew I had to make this city home.
SAHS: What is your academic background?
JV: I am about to start doctoral coursework at Virginia Commonwealth University's interdisciplinary Media, Art and Text Program. I received my MA in English from the University of North Florida. As an undergraduate, I majored in English Literature and minored in Creative Writing and History.
SAHS: How did these academic experiences prepare you for your current job?
JV: My MA in English leads many people to believe that I am interested in comma splices and split infinitives. However, like many people with English degrees, I'm much more interested in how literature operates in wider cultural contexts and the slipperiness of language. I've always wandered between disciplines; because of this, the museum setting seems like a natural space for me. In actual practice, I think my interdisciplinary (but English grounded) background grants me a greater understanding of story-telling, audience, and memory construction. We serve three distinct audiences at the St. Augustine Historical Society. One of my tasks is to make sure that our varied needs are met which means changing the voice and medium to best deliver our narratives. My interest in digital technology is proving useful as we look to the future.
SAHS: How did you become involved with the St. Augustine Historical Society?
JV: When I was an undergraduate student at Flagler College, I used to unlock the Flagler Room for the Speaker Series. I would stay, captivated by the presentations. While I earned my MA, I worked as a docent. Last summer, I joined the staff as the Digital Media Specialist.
SAHS: What do you do when you aren't working?
JV: I read--a lot. Though I have to confess, I'm mostly interested in literary/media theory or Young Adult novels. I work with another nonprofit, Florida Literary Arts Coalition. I also serve as part of the staff for The Passed Note, a Young Adult literary journal.
Chad Germany is a 22 year old undergraduate student at the University of North Florida electing to spend his summer volunteering at the St. Augustine Historical Research Library.
He is a History major and a Sociology minor. I asked him why he paired those two disciplines together. Chad explained that, "Sociology is an explanation for history," an answer that showcases his understanding of how combining disciplines allows for a fuller, more developed understanding of a time period or cultural practice.
The volunteers and interns that come to the St. Augustine Historical Society are always ambitious and are unafraid to log long hours. I wasn't the least bit surprised when he mentioned that he wanted to pursue a graduate degree. Due to his interest in archive and museum studies, he wants to obtain a MLS.
I wanted to know what course had helped prepare him for both his current role as a volunteer and upcoming role as an intern at the library. Earlier this summer, Chad participated in a class called "Introduction to Electronic Textual Editing." During this truncated, six week long course, he had the opportunity to work with UNF's Special Collection the "Eartha M, M. White Archives." The experimental class was tasked with creating an online archive that ultimately allowed the Eartha M.M. White documents accessible to future students and researchers.
This summer at the Research Library, Chad is taking those same skills from his coursework and digitizing photographs, entering metadata, and manipulating photos in Photoshop. The tasks that Chad completes every Wednesday play a crucial role in making more of our resources accessible.
While he is spending every Wednesday volunteering at our library, he plans to complete a formal, credited internship with us in Spring 2017. He laughed, saying he wanted to make his last semester of his undergraduate career count for something. "Rather than taking golf, tennis or the appreciation of yoga, I've decided to come here,"Chad said, pointing to his current project of digitizing photographs.
As an intern Spring 2017, Chad will be working on a project that aligns with The Digital Humanities Initiative at University of North Florida. I'll keep you up to date on how Chad is doing.
So far, the dig at the Tovar House has allowed me to glimpse into the world of archaeology, a world (I'll admit it) I'd only ever known through the Indiana Jones movies. I don't know about you, but I never pass up the opportunity to learn more. There is something absolutely exhilarating about the acquisition of knowledge. While I'm by no means an overnight expert, I'm glad my understanding of this project is more nuanced than it was four short weeks ago.
I find myself returning, quite often, to what Sarah said the first week of the 2016 excavation--that maps are useful, but also limited ways of seeing the past and what life was like.
A musket ball, 2 bone buttons, a pin, and a ceramic glazed pipe
With that idea about maps reverberating in my head, I knew I had to learn--just a little bit more--of what that interrogation looked like in field. If not maps, then what are the other ways we learn about residents when there is so little textual evidence? How are things sorted? I'm always a girl with questions, and I'm not bashful.
Janet had been standing at a long, white table, bagging some items, and writing in a binder when I approached her. She walked me through the process of item collection.
Together, we made our way over to the screen. Small soil samples are brought to the screen to be washed. When the dirt falls away, remnants of the past remain. Janet explained these items are then sorted into different piles: Native American, glass, fish and bird bones, etc.
Assorted pieces of ceramics
All of these items from a particular pile get a number corresponding to where the items were found in the excavation site. In the binder, Janet showed me that "all the FS, or field specimens, get a number" that corresponds to where the sample was pulled from, how far down in the excavation hole the items where located, what was found--things of that nature. It's recorded in the binder, and bagged. The bags are lined up by FS number; everything is labeled and described, allowing for easier study of the objects.
These seemingly disparate fragments allow us to see a better picture of the Tovar House--of who lived there, and what they did. Recently, the Tovar crew uncovered an iron, pins, and bone buttons. The presence of these items suggests that the Tovar House may have been home to a tailor.
Until next time.
Today, I wandered back into Tovar House to check on the live dig. The scene had changed dramatically since I'd last visited; piles of organized dirt covered the main room. There were small pathways that led to two holes in the floor, exposing centuries of construction.
Greg was standing in a new hole, taking measurements. He pointed to the subfloor--a mix of shell and other miscellaneous pieces of rubble. "The subfloor is an everything plus the kitchen sink tactic," he said. Later, he added that the subfloor was used to even out elevation issues.
He brought me over to the first hole--the one we discussed last time. I plopped myself down on the ground at the edge, peering into the layers of dirt and shell.
While I could see that there were layers, I was unsure of what those layers signified. Luckily, the Tovar House excavation crew is patient, and more importantly, excited to share their findings with newbie like me. And this week, there was a a lot to share.
For years, our textual evidence has led us to believe that the current structure--what we today refer to as the Tovar House-- dated back to the first Spanish period in St. Augustine. We know there was a structure on the site where Tovar House house is today because of Juan José Elixio de la Puente's 1764 map. This map is significant to St. Augustine's history because it outlined property ownership, documenting the placement of Spanish structures as the city came under British rule.
It turns out, what the Tovar excavation crew unearthed changes things dramatically.
Greg showed me the "different construction episodes" present in the new uncovered layers. What we identify today as the Tovar House is likely a British structure built on the foundation of an earlier Spanish building. Of course, there will need to be additional analysis before the house can be officially declared a British colonial structure.
One of the ways that the Tovar House excavation crew has been able to determine the time period of the different floors is by analyzing soil samples. The team carefully screens soil from different layers and removes artifacts, meticulously logging all the findings. "We found a piece of pottery dating back to 1780--well after the first Spanish period," Greg said. The late eighteenth century piece of pottery was found in one of the upper layers of the excavation, meaning that layer of the floor was installed by British residents.
This new evidence has the dig site alive with chatter.
Coquina footing of a (more) original structure
"It is great because everyone gets together to compare notes and shares interpretations," Greg said. The various floor layers raise more questions--better questions, which is always the goal of research.
It's only week three of the dig. I'll be back next week to chat about some of the other items and structural nuances.
Our June 2016 Book of the Month is Maria by New York Times best selling author Eugenia Price.
Set during St. Augustine's British period, this historical romance novel follows resourceful Maria Evans navigate colonial life. Perhaps most notable for our purposes is the novel's immediate domestic backdrop. Maria is based on Mary Evans, a historical figure that lived in the Oldest House which the St. Augustine Historical Society owns, maintains, and operates. Maria is the first novel in The Florida Trilogy and is perfect for beach reading.
We will offer 10% off of this book in stores throughout the entire month of June. Be sure to pick up your copy today and be ready to become immersed in a bygone era.
Dust may billow from the arches of the Tovar House, collecting in the air and settling on St. Francis Street, but I am here to assure you that there is no cause for alarm. For the next several weeks, the St. Augustine Historical Society will be a site of an active archaeological dig aimed at uncovering nuances of living in St. Augustine in previous centuries.
Our Executive Director Dr. Susan Parker is also a Research Associate with the Historic St. Augustine Research Institute--a collective partnership between Flagler College and the University of Florida committed to creating active academic research opportunities that support the historic preservation in the city. Dr. Parker and fellow Research Associates Dr. Kathleen Deagan and Herschel Shephard were awarded a $10,000 grant to continue investigating the Tovar House. This is third grant from the Historic St. Augustine Research Institute designated to take a closer look at Tovar House. They are hopeful that such close attention to the construction and evolution of the building might provide additional insight about St. Augustine.
For the next several weeks, I will be stopping by the dig site. This week I had the opportunity to speak with Greg Smith, Janet Jordan, and Sarah Bennett.
When I crossed the threshold into the Tovar House, I entered an active dig for the first time. Tables housed an array of equipment and papers, flanking the large excavation site where Janet crouched. “This part feels softer than the rest,” she said, glancing back to Greg.
Very quickly, it became obvious that the dig--only its first week--had already become invigorated with intrigue. I asked Greg how these findings might help us understand broader aspects of St. Augustine culture and past. Pointing to the subtle discernible layers in the excavation site, he indicated that they believed the original house was a single story. The entrance we had used was likely enclosed at a later date. But the floor where Janet meticulously worked had interesting implications. Greg explained that the site was starting to reveal different layers where the floor had been filled and added to over the course of the house’s life.
“In the long term, the information we gather here can serve as a starting point for comparison” Greg indicated. The Tovar House will likely serve as a model highlighting that while first period Spanish homes shared common aspects-- like patio or garden entrances-- actual construction often varied. This project allows us to begin to understand patterns of construction more--always opening up additional sights of query and questioning.
As an academic from a much different discipline, I am always curious as to why people select their fields. I asked Janet why this work was so important. She placed her tools to the side and said, “People can’t just throw out dates. This work,” she gestured to the dig site, “ allows us to fine-tune and discover exactly what was going on.”
Sarah, who had been logging information, looked up to answer me. For her, it is the active interrogation of a space that helps fill in some of the details a map might not cover. She said “Maps may or may not be a completely accurate reflection of the way people actually lived.”
The dig at Tovar House represents our portal to the past--a way to quite literally peel back layers and see life preserved in architecture. I'll be here, quietly observing and reporting back to you as we embark on this journey.