4 education
4 research
4 outreach
4 dialogue

Bladensburg Archaeology

Bladensburg, a suburban community located approximately 2 miles to the northeast of the Washington DC border, has had a long and steadily evolving history. It was founded as a tobacco trading port in 1742, nearly 60 years before the Washington, DC. It served as a major port for tobacco trading in Maryland, until erosion prevented its major artery - the Anacostia River – from being navigable. Later, the town became an important stopping point along transportation routes across the Mid Atlantic. It was also the location of a major battle in the War of 1812, a recreation destination for city dwellers, and eventually a suburban bedroom community for federal workers. Today, criss-crossed by transportation routes and swathed in late-twentieth century industrial and commercial development, the long historical origins of the town are heavily obscured to the casual observer.

The Cultural Resources Section of the State Highway Administration (SHA), in collaboration with the Center for Heritage Resource Studies (CHRS) at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Maryland, began the Bladensburg Archaeology Project in the Spring of 2009 to explore this rich heritage. Since the initiation of the project three archaeological sites were excavated, documentary and deed research conducted and architectural inventories compiled. Throughout this process the collaborating partners have undertaken a civic engagement program designed to enable the community to participate in the project. Overall the goals of the civic engagement initiative include the following:

1) To investigate the history and material culture of the four sites using a collaborative approach with the public;

2) Inspire public discourse about local history and support an existing community of people inspired to think about and preserve local history; and

3) Educate tourists and community members, particularly the youth of Bladensburg and greater Prince George’s County, about the findings of the research component of the project, and the process of archaeological research in general.

The program includes: electronic media, public site tours and participation, and project attendance at local civic events. The public outreach component began a few weeks before excavations commenced at the first of three eighteenth century structures to be explored in this first phase of the project. Using the model of the Hampden Community Archaeology Project the project began with an initial public history workshop. The purpose of the workshop was to communicate the plans and goals of the project to the community, receive feedback, and inspire a collaborative and open dialogue throughout the course of the project. The workshop included a talk about local history, followed by an open dialogue about community interests in the project.

A second workshop was presented in late summer following the completion of excavations. Along with a local history lecture, artifact presentation and a summary of findings were presented. A discussion followed about local interest in the project. The workshops have been successful in providing project staff with research leads, access to community social networks and, more generally, an opportunity to share enthusiasm for the project. The public has responded with increasing support and interest in the project.

During excavations a project blog was updated daily with narratives from project staff. As collaborating partners and members of the public joined the project, they were encouraged to contribute blog entries as well. This updating continues as artifacts are catalogued and processed, research projects are completed and future events are planned. In the coming year the collaboration between the State Highway Administration, the Center for Heritage Resource Studies and community partners will continue with a new round of excavations and research.
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