Archaeological project earns state award

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Photo of an educational program in progress at Fort St. Joseph.

Members of the public listen to an educational program at Fort St. Joseph.

KALAMAZOO—The Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project has received a 2013 State History Award in the educational programs category.

The award was presented by the Historical Society of Michigan during the society's annual Meeting and State History Conference earlier this fall in Kalamazoo. The State History Awards are the highest recognition given by the state's official historical society.

The Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project was established to find the site of Fort St. Joseph, which was located near Niles, Mich. The initiative is a partnership among Western Michigan University, the city of Niles and the Fort St. Joseph Museum.

It is headed by Dr. Michael S. Nassaney, WMU professor of anthropology and the project's principal investigator, and aided by Support the Fort as well as several other government, history and community groups.

Fort St. Joseph

WMU's Department of Anthropology pinpointed the fort's location during an initial survey in 1998. Excavations began in earnest there in 2002, when WMU began conducting its annual archaeological field school at the fort site.

Since then, faculty researchers and students at the University have continued working to uncover and interpret the fort's physical remains.

First established as a mission in the 1680s by French Jesuits, the fort was one of the earliest European settlements in the western Great Lakes region. It was an important part of a chain of settlements that facilitated the fur trade between Native Americans and the French, and took on the roles of garrison and trading post during the first half of the 18th century.

Outreach and education

Public outreach and education are major aspects of the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project. Digs have taken place every summer since 2002 at the fort site, with the project hosting WMU's field school as well as archaeology camps for middle and high school students, teachers and interested adults.

Starting in 2006, the University joined with local organizations to stage an annual open house that attracts about 2,000 visitors. The event includes tours of the fort site, lectures, displays of excavated items, historical reenactments and demonstrations, and period music, dancing and food.

In addition, videos, booklets, a blog and other informational materials have been produced under the project's aegis, including a 30-minute documentary on 18th-century colonial and frontier life titled "A Militia Muster on the Eve of Revolution."

The documentary earned a gold award in the social sciences area of the instructional/educational/training programs category of the 2013 Aurora Awards program, an international film and video competition to recognize excellence, particularly for products, programs and commercials that typically do not have access to international competitions.

It was created using a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council. Nassaney and Stephen L. Kettner, a videographer and editor with WMU Media Services and an adjunct professor for the University's School of Communication, co-produced the work. David Tabor, a 2010 WMU graduate, served as second cameraman.

Other related materials

Other documentaries shot and edited by Kettner include "The Search for Fort St. Joseph: Lessons in History, Culture and Scientific Methodology" (2004), "The Fort St. Joseph Project: Service and Learning in the Community" (2006), and "Making the Past Come Alive: Public Archaeology at Fort St. Joseph" (2008).

The first two documentaries are available for purchase through Films for the Humanities. A lengthy article about Fort St. Joseph written by Nassaney and accompanied by numerous photos is posted online by The Encyclopedia of French Cultural Heritage in North America, based at Laval University in Quebec City.

For more information about Fort St. Joseph, visit the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project website.