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Student’s Unearthing A 263 Year Old Fort


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Interview with Jonathan Fowler, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Saint Mary’s University

Dr. Jonathan Fowler is an Associate Professor of Anthropology. He has worked on archeological digs around the world, including many here in Nova Scotia. One of the most exciting projects he has worked on, with students, is the detection and unearthing of artifacts from a 263-year-old British Fort, discovered in Lunenburg.

Read on to learn more about this fascinating find as well as ways that Dr. Fowler involves his students in hands-on research.

Why don’t we start with the discovery of the fort in Lunenburg? How did you even know there might be something there in the first place?

I was working with Dr. Henry Cary, an adjunct professor here at St. Mary’s, and we were “hatching” ideas for new ways to get students out of the classroom and into the field, doing hands-on research. His big area of interest is military history and he had seen some historic records, from 1753, that suggested there was an old British military fortress guarding the harbor at the site of the Luneburg Academy up on the hill. So we thought we would integrate the search for the fort into one of our courses called Advanced Landscape Archeology.

And how did you design the course to involve students in the search for the fort?

First, we went out to the site and taught the students how to use various forms of sensing equipment and then we conducted magnetic surveys – that was in 2013 – and from that initial investigation, we found enough evidence to suggest there was something there. This led to an actual dig at the site, again, with students, and we did indeed find military architecture that appears to be part of a fort structure.

Students doing hands-on research is something Saint Mary’s is known for. Why do you think that is?

There’s definitely something going on here at Saint Mary’s. It’s part of the culture and I’m not sure when or how it started, but yes, the school, departments and profs are big proponents of teaching through research that gets students involved. That was the case with me. I was here, at Saint Mary’s, as a student many years ago. And the first time I stuck a trowel in the ground was as a student, working with my prof.

That’s definitely not the “old school” approach to teaching.

No. Traditionally the professor puts their lab coat on, shuts the door and then filters the research down to his students, whereas here we open our doors and work with the students. I like to say it’s not just “jug in mug” where the teacher pours knowledge into students. Sometimes we learn together and sometimes we learn from them.

Other than the Lunenburg discovery, what other research or digs have your students been involved in?

We have been all over Nova Scotia. I’m actually from Halifax, so I know the province really well and that’s part of the joy of teaching here. Grand Pré is one of our main research sites and, in fact, some of the artifacts at the Grand Pré museum (as well as other museums across Nova Scotia) were found by my students. The city of Halifax also offers a multitude of research opportunities as it is essentially a giant artifact in itself. I actually teach a course in the archeology of Halifax so my students and I will use the entire city; its buildings, its parks, roadways and the waterways that have been buried and routed through pipes below the city. We walk around and discover in-the-field, not just in books and in the classroom.

It must be exciting and rewarding, for you and your students, to work in a city so rich in history.

Yes, but Halifax is much more than that. Halifax is a fun city. It’s a beautiful city. It has great restaurants. An incredible music scene. And the sea air – you wake up those foggy mornings – you can almost picture a vending machine dispensing fresh, sea air. So, not only is Saint Mary’s a great school for hands-on learning that prepares students for work in the real world, they also get to enjoy all of the great things that come along with living and studying in such a fun, lively city.

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