July 28, 2008 – Monday – The People Who Make History

By Neal Hitch

History is an elusive thing. It happens every day, all around us. But who makes the history?

The three-week search for the Trouvadore in July of 2008 is over. The dive boat has been unloaded. Dredges and pumps have been washed and put away into the attic of the museum. The artifacts that were collected have been washed and stored for further conservation work. After nearly seven weeks, Dr. Donald Keith has left the Turks and Caicos. What are the questions? Did we make history? Are we finished? Is it really over? What now?

I am coming onto the Trouvador project very late in the day, as it has been more than ten years in the making. But it is certainly clear that without the decade of effort put fourth by Ships and Discovery and the Turks & Caicos National Museum, the history of the Trouvadore would have sat lost forever.

Undertakings such as the search for the Trouvadore are not undertaken lightly. Nor should they be undertaken without purpose. For the purposes of the National Museum, the Trouvadore story has been a quest for answers. What began with a puzzling couple of sentences in a letter dated to the 1870s, has resulted in six years of research, survey, and marine archeology. The end result will be the core exhibit of the history galleries in the new Turks & Caicos National Museum on Providenciales. What you have witnessed through these weeks of diary entries, however, is not the ending, but a beginning.

Over the next several months, archival research will continue in Jamaica, and possibly in other places as well. The artifacts found during the three dive expeditions, 2004, 2006, and 2008, will begin to be conserved and analyzed. The story will be re-written. Graphics will be produced. Exhibit ideas will be dreamed up. The history of the Trouvadore will be made by the combined efforts of all those involved with these activities, as well as the team that has just returned. The history is made by the generous contributions of funders as well. It has to be noted that without support and aid, none of this story would have reached the people of the Turks and Caicos.

As history, and history exhibits go, the Trouvadore is just one part of a larger story. This story includes smugglers, pirates, colonists, slavery, and also naval powers that made the Caribbean, and specifically commerce, safe and stable for sustainable development. This larger history is full of interesting stories where the world collided with the various islands of the Turks and Caicos.

We have seen parts of this story in the identification of the Chippewa, and it is tantalizing. Good exhibits are made of good stories. Many of these stories are just emerging. They are exciting. They deserve a “search” of there own. Good exhibits also need good artifacts. These are also emerging.

In the next few months, Ships of Discovery and the National Museum will begin to put all of our stories together and will make a plan. Part of this plan will be to continue the investigation of the US Navy and its role in piracy suppression. This may include additional survey work and marine archeology. It certainly will include the analysis of artifacts.

There is lots of work to be completed. Roll up your sleeves. Lets make history.