Recently, TU doctoral candidate in archeology Alicia Odewale received a National Science Foundation grant for her research into enslaved Africans in the Christiansted National Historic Site in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. Odewale, along with the help of Associate Professor Thomas Foster, will use the grant to continue her work.
The NSF grant will provide the funding for Odewale to find more evidence to support her hypothesis, discussed below. To get the grant, she submitted a research outline, which included timelines she now has to follow, and the paper was reviewed by experts in her field. She is the first TU doctoral student in the archeology PhD program, which is four years old, to receive this grant.
For her research, Odewale is comparing the enslaved populations of St. Croix and the Montpelier Plantation in Virginia. The enslaved Africans in St. Croix were owned by the king of Denmark. Comparing a rural site, like Montpelier, with an urban site like St. Croix, will show the “different challenges this community [St. Croix] is faced with compared to a more traditional plantation in Virginia,” Odewale says.
An urban site wouldn’t grow tobacco or other goods, and the community would be much less spread out than a plantation. With this research, Foster says they hope to uncover the hazards, whether that be disease, natural disasters or other events, that the enslaved population endured. Odewale’s hypothesis is that there would be increased variability and hazards in St. Croix.
During her excavations, Odewale has found possibly part of a floor, one laid with conch shells and the other with ballast stones and mortar. Based on historic maps, she believes this would’ve been where the enslaved people were living. She’s also found metal, architecture material, ceramics and glass.
This summer, she will target a feature, which is something that cannot be removed from the site. She will explore the floor space further, in hopes of determining what type of space it is. Once that is complete, she can compare the site to similar sites in rural settings.
The St. Croix site is owned by the National Park Service. As the site had not been excavated to a great degree before Odewale’s work, “any new information that I was getting was going to benefit everyone involved.” While there, she was assisted by National Park Service interns, Youth Conservation Core volunteers, and others.
Her work has been well received on the island. Much of the population feels as though they are still not the owners of their history, according to Odewale, as many artifacts reside in Denmark. Archeology done in the park was done in the open, leading to tour groups and citizens dropping in. Many were concerned the artifacts found would be taken permanently, but Odewale says anything found will be returned.
“Their [the enslaved peoples] story has been told from one perspective,” adds Foster, “and [Odewale] is looking at it from their own perspective, and the things they had to deal with on a daily basis.” She looks through first-person accounts to determine what they felt threatened by, from which she can track natural disasters, disease and other events.
Odewale hopes her work will “help with our understanding of the African diaspora in general,” as well as understanding how the population overcame these different experiences and risks. Doing research in this area “further educates us on cyclical historic periods,” says Odewale, which is important because what happened during that period has had a lasting impact on people today.