Photography and Archaeology

In addition to trowels and shovels and ¼ inch steel mesh screens, one of the most important pieces of equipment we carry with us into the field is a camera.  Not only do we use our camera to record and document the levels and features we excavate, we can use it as a tool for bringing the past back into the present.

William Paca House before 1890 and in 2012

The William Paca House before 1890 and again in 2012. Image Sources: Historic American Building Survey, E.H. Pickering (bottom left); Benjamin Skolnik (top right)

Historical photographs exist for many of the buildings we encounter, both in Annapolis and at Wye House.  A portion of one such photograph of the Paca House and garden was used to create the above shot.  The original historic photograph was taken prior to 1890 and the construction of Carvel Hall, a 200 room hotel, which between it and its parking lot covered a significant portion of the lot owned by William Paca.  Despite the archaeologically-informed reconstruction of the garden, photographs like this one can create a tangible link to the past in a way archaeological excavation is sometimes hard-pressed to match.

Given how many historic photographs exist and the pervasiveness of the past—especially in a place like Annapolis—we can create a unique linkage between the past and the present by using our camera.  Only by standing in the same spot as my historical photographer counterpart, pointing my camera at the same subject, and replicating their camera settings can I create an image like this one that blends past and present and forces you to consider the historic forces which have shaped the Paca House and garden from what it was sometime prior to 1890 as seen on the bottom left to what it is today as seen on the top right.


Leave a Reply