The Plymouth Colony Archive Project
Created by Patricia Scott Deetz, James Deetz (1930–2000), and Christopher Fennell; maintained by Patricia Scott Deetz and Christopher Fennell.
Reviewed November, 2003.
The Plymouth Colony Archive Project provides scholarly analyses, documents, and data on the reconstruction of Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts along with tributes to James Deetz, the influential scholar and teacher whose work is indispensable in early American studies, particularly concerning material culture. Deetz himself participated in the Web site beginning in 1998, and the project is now maintained by his collaborator and widow, Patricia Scott Deetz, and one of their former students, Christopher Fennell.
Deetz and Fennell name their audience as the general reader, but some of the site’s features are likely being used by scholars and K-12 teachers. A good search engine covering all documents within the site suits the work of the former, while links to lesson plans on such topics as housing and Thanksgiving aid the latter. Some sections are excerpts from Deetz and Deetz, The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony (2000). “About This Project” describes the book as the interpretive face of the activity involved in crafting the site. Several new papers by Deetz and Deetz make a first appearance here.
The site amounts to an encyclopedia of Plymouth Colony and is beyond the scope of a short review, but the appeal to the general reader is worth considering. The Times of Their Lives is weighed down by the assumption that most Americans naively consider the early colonial past to have been neat, orderly, and pious; the Deetzes often fight battles about national myths that they and their peers won several decades ago. One wonders whether the revisionism of the 1960s has itself become antiquarian. Fortunately, The Plymouth Colony Archive Project comprises so many images and primary documents that the view of the creators is crowded with things of the past. The appeal to the general reader seems to be extraordinarily high, based on the mix of images, documents, and analysis. The site’s creators best show their mastery in sections on the construction of seventeenth-century buildings, which are a staple of outdoor museums and command the fascination of scholars and laypeople alike.
One aspect of interest to general readers concerned with education, whether in their own families or in the nation, is the collection of student papers from the University of Virginia. The site promises that more of these will be published, and they demonstrate the fruits of interaction between fine teachers and committed undergraduates. The project here shows education in action in a way that the public rarely sees. In a time of outcomes assessment and reservations about arts-and-sciences education, it is well to be reminded that students can hone their analytical skills in courses covering traditional material.
The structure and form of the site are imperfect. The abundance of primary sources means that some pages are simply tables of contents to documents—perhaps an inevitable problem. Moreover, font size, margins, and references to previously published work (for example, pages or a page run of a print publication from which one of the site’s documents is taken) are inconsistent. The full range of the new media is not present, but this is a hypertext encyclopedia of a small settlement, so the creators have chosen well in the media they present.
Western Michigan University