Students are often surprised how invested they become in history. They realize it's not about storytelling — it's about understanding ourselves and critical analysis of evidence.
The mysterious underwater world captured Kristine Trego's fascination years ago.
"Undersea is unchartered territory in so many ways," says the professor of classics & ancient Mediterranean studies. "It's the last frontier on Earth because until 100 years ago, there was no scuba diving."
As Trego continues nearly 20 years of underwater excavation and analysis of ancient shipwrecks off the western coast of Turkey, she turns toward an admittedly massive undertaking of coordinating a research project to explain the complex shipboard culture of seafarers and how they influenced places they visited.
As a social historian, Trego's project tidily joins her expertise in historiography and her fascination with "mundane" shipboard finds — cooking pots, game pieces, talismans. These objects, combined with literary evidence, can tell stories of otherwise-forgotten crews once essential to world economies and cultures — and their story has yet to be told.
"My next project is to write a book that combines social history and text with archeology of ancient seafarers and crews," she says. "I want to look at the realities of their lives, how they identified with certain areas, and get an understanding of what role they played in society because this is how ideas spread throughout the world until about 100 years ago. As a social historian and archaeologist, I'm in a unique position to start asking and answering some questions and get the debate going."
In the classroom, Trego must emphasize the reality of underwater archeology — a painstaking process that involves delayed gratification and much more time in labs, museums and libraries than underwater.
"It's hard for students to understand it's not just moving from one shipwreck to the next," Trego says. "You have a responsibility to understand what you excavated. It takes patience to keep applying for funding to get to the point of publication, which can take decades."
But she also encourages students to embrace the interdisciplinary nature of archeology and apply it to their own place in the world because understanding history has a long payoff.
"Our graduates are successful in many fields because they have a long, critical view of the world and understanding of other cultures without judgment, and they can communicate with people from different backgrounds," Trego says. "Students are often surprised how invested they become in history. When they get to the classroom, they realize it's not about storytelling — it's about understanding ourselves and critical analysis of evidence. These skills create a strong mind and intellect."
Updated Sept. 30, 2016