Too bad it came so many weeks after our week on underwater archaeology, but Archaeology magazine has recently published their May/June 2012 issue with the cover story “Archaeology of Titanic” by James P. Delgado, the current director of the Maritime Heritage Program for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In the article, he talks about the recent efforts to create the first comprehensive archaeological map of the site* and discern the site formation processes – including how the different pieces hit the ground, and how the processes of the sea went to work on them afterwards, and with what results. This is all possible under what Delgado calls “a paradigm shift in underwater archaeology” (36): “thanks to rapid technological advances and interdisciplinary work… for the first time, Titanic can be treated and explored like any other underwater site — een extreme depth is no longer an obstacle to archaeologists” (36). He also talks about issues relating to the site like jurisdiction – who has access to it, and who can take what away from it. Ricardo Elia provided a timeline of “Titanic in the Courts” in Archaeology’s January/February 2001 issue, to accompany Delgado’s earlier account of “Diving on the Titanic” in the same issue. Both of these follow Elia’s September 2000 account of “Diving for Diamonds,” describing “The ongoing saga of the RMS Titanic and efforts to protect shipwrecks and submerged sites.“
When I started writing this post, a show about Titanic came up on NPR – highlighting that all we’re hearing about the Titanic recently are because 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking, and the archaeology of the site isn’t the only activity catching the public’s interest in this seemingly endless fascinating and tragic story that started on April 15, 1912. Object histories are tugging at heartstrings, like in Owen Edwards’ article Smithsonian magazine, “Titanic Sank This Morning” which describes how powerful a seemingly ordinary object like a life jacket can be (I find this image of a suitcase from one of Titanic’s passengers, captured in the recent efforts to document the site, to be equally evocative).
In addition to movies and radio shows and archaeological expeditions, a lot of new books are coming out this year about the Titanic. Here you can read reviews of “3 New ‘Titanic’ Books” and “Titanic: Five Stories From Survivors” (which points out, ominously, that Titanic doesn’t even rank among the top five deadliest disasters). Check out Smithsonian’s “Full Steam Ahead! Roundup of All Things Titanic” to find out even more about topics ranging from why Titanic still has such a powerful grip on the popular imagination even 100 years after it sank to whether the disaster occurred because of an optical illusion (!).
*The eerily moon-like site map is available in the hard copy of the magazine, but not in the online version; but you can get some idea of what it looks like by clicking on this image of the magazine cover. I will bring in my copy to class on Monday so you can flip through the article to see the images!