Chestertown, MD, August 21, 2006 — Washington College has announced the appointment of John Seidel, associate professor of anthropology and environmental studies, as interim director of the college's Center for the Environment and Society. Seidel, who has taught at Washington College since 1998, replaces Michael Chiarappa, who resigned in June. Seidel will serve in the position while the college conducts a nationwide search for a new director this fall.
"I've been fortunate in that my predecessors were very strong and active directors, who established a successful trajectory for the Center," Seidel said. "Former Director Wayne Bell remains with the Center as an associate, and his work in helping communities to envision possible and desirable outcomes under various zoning and comprehensive plans will continue. I also will continue to pursue my predecessor Michael Chiarappa's effort to revitalize links between Washington College and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. We plan to implement cooperative research efforts, teaching exchanges, and student internships over the next year."
Seidel envisions a cooperative semester or summer session focused on the Chesapeake Bay's history and environment, much like the highly successful Williams College-Mystic Seaport Maritime Program. In addition, the Center will pursue several new initiatives, Seidel noted, including the use of cutting edge technology to assist in natural resource planning. In collaboration with the National Park Service (NPS), the Center has started on a pilot project to examine various techniques for mapping estuarine and marine bottoms, sediments, and submerged aquatic vegetation. Washington College already has developed expertise in this area through the use of a state-of-the-art multibeam acoustic system for mapping bottom types. The RoxSwath Seabed Classification System was acquired in 2004.
"Building on our work with this system in the Chester River, we will do the next phase of the project at Fire Island National Seashore in collaboration with the National Park Service Submerged Resource Center. Washington College students will analyze the results of the project during the fall semester. The goal of this effort is to build a system that NPS can use nationwide. This is a wonderful example of using the laboratory in our backyard to arrive at solutions that have national applications."
Seidel plans to continue the Center's fruitful collaboration with the Washington College Public Archaeology Laboratory in pursuing projects that illuminate environmental history and the past relationships between people and their natural surroundings. He will also continue the Center's close relationship with Washington College's Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Laboratory, which offers students, faculty, and the community a powerful tool for working with and visualizing spatial data.
Seidel received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1987, and holds a B.A. from Drew University as well as master's degrees in anthropology and American civilization from the University of Pennsylvania. He has taught archaeology at Rutgers University and at the University of Maryland. He joined the faculty of Washington College eight years ago to develop a regional program in environmental archaeology and was awarded tenure in 2002. Prior to joining the faculty of Washington College, he worked in the private-sector as an underwater archaeologist for R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates, one of the largest cultural resource management firms in the nation.
His academic research has included classical archaeology in the Near East, investigations of the ancient Maya in Guatemala, surveys of shipwrecks in the Dry Tortugas and Biscayne, Florida, and work on a variety of sites throughout the Eastern U.S. dating from the 19th century back to 12,000 years ago. His current research focuses on the relationships between humans and their environments in the Chesapeake Bay region and the development of an environmental model for archaeological site locations on the Eastern Shore. The project provides vital information on both natural resources (oyster bars, bottom types, etc.) and cultural resources (shipwrecks, old wharves, fish weirs, inundated terrestrial sites, etc.) to planners and resource managers.
Since his arrival at Washington College, Seidel has worked to expand course offerings in environmental studies and taught courses in environmental archaeology, world prehistory and history, maritime and underwater archaeology, historic preservation, and resource management. In collaboration with the Center for the Environment and Society, and—with grant support from foundations such as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation—he helped to introduce a GIS program at the college for research, teaching, resource management, and facilities management. He regularly teaches summer field schools in archaeology for undergraduates and directs a variety of research projects out of the Washington College Public Archaeology Laboratory, located on the ground floor of Chestertown's historic Custom House.
Recent archaeological investigations include digs at the Harriet Tubman birthplace, the 18th century Hermitage estate, and Poplar Grove slave quarters, as well as Chestertown's Custom House and the Charles Sumner Post G.A.R. Lodge. In collaboration with Eastern Shore Heritage, he organized a team to develop a heritage tourism management plan for Kent, Queen Anne's, Caroline, and Talbot Counties, which have now gained State recognition as a "certified heritage area."
Professor Seidel resides in Chestertown with his wife Liz, who is also an archaeologist and oversees the Washington College Public Archaeology Laboratory.