Stalking #1 – A More Complete History of the Chesapeake Bay

Upon traveling to Jamestown, Williamsburg, Cambridge, and Baltimore on my first, of what would be four influential journeys, I became deeply connected with the historical past of the Chesapeake Bay and it’s people. This journey had a powerful impact on who I am as a person and changed the way I look at not only the Chesapeake Bay, but all of history as well! As a kid, (and I feel ashamed to say this) I had no interest in American history whatsoever, and a particular hatred for american history museums. I had even gone to both Jamestown (the settlement and rediscovered) and Williamsburg a few times in my childhood and left with almost no understanding of the time period and an annoyed attitude of it being a waste of time.

So this begs the question “Why was this time any different”, well I believe that not only have I grown from being that energetic kid that had a hard time paying attention because he was so busy looking at everything but mostly it was that I had been given a focus or goal in which to work upon: suddenly these boring museums became interactive scavenger hunts I used to complete my tasks that required me to dig deeper than the average tourist. In the past, I had gone around the sites with no guidance as to my purpose in these places and without a purpose I had deemed the knowledge pointless and dismissed it without noticing it’s value. The assignments given to me during the first journey allowed me to stop and ask questions, take in the importance of each object and recognize it’s impact on me and what I cared about.Most specifically the connection between the environment and history really helped spark that desire to learn more while on this journey. Nature has always been something I cared about and understood it’s connection to me as well as my impact on it, so learning about history through a lens I already understood enabled me to connect with my region’s history in a new way.

One example of this new appreciation of American history using the environment came to fruit during the Williamsburg assignment where the class was broken up into small groups and were individually given a question with a broad topic to investigate over the next few days. My group was tasked with investigating what trades/goods were used by settlers at the time, which ones were imported and which were local, and which goods had the largest impact on society and the environment. This type of question gave my group and I freedom to approach the questions in many different ways and focus on which goods we deemed important as well as confining us a smaller pool of information which allowed for a more in depth analysis of each groups question. My group and I were able to gather a variety of information from places like the magazine and tailor which were less visibly connected to goods like the farmer or the blacksmith and allowed us to collect a more detailed explanation of how supplies effected different markets and people. This process led to the narrowing down of basic information and let each group gain accurate and complex knowledge of specific aspects of life and once shared with the rest of the group, we all had gain a more complete understanding of what life was like during the 1700’s.

This type of research increased my appreciation for history because it not only gave me a better mental time line of events, but also brought light to gaps of information that had been left out of my middle and high school history classes. I had always had this image in my head that colonists were pretty self-sufficient and used this bountiful land to survive but the reality is most people were  not craftsmen and didn’t have the skills to utilize the resources provided to them so things like iron, lumber, etc. were shipped back to England where labor was cheap and plentiful and then shipped back to the Chesapeake Bay area for them to sell the products. Colonists were mostly farmers because land and food production was in high demand in Europe. I learned about major impacts on the environment such as how charcoal production led to such deforestation that a man recorded standing on land and being able to see from river to river. I talked to a farmer and learn more than I ever thought possible about tobacco which was another huge factor of deforestation and soil erosion: a single cluster of tobacco seeds has about 1000 seeds, those seeds are mixed with ashes to locate the tiny seeds, after growing a few inches the tobacco plants are moved into a neighboring field were they will proceed to grow and be clipped, the plant goes on to be smoked for a month and a half, goes through the process of bulking and sweating until it’s leaves are stripped for shipping. But even with all this information the most astonishing thing I learned about tobacco was that tobacco can only be grown in the same field for 3 years before it depletes the soil of all it’s nutrients and it will take 20-30 years for the land to put that same about of nutrients back!

Even though I did not include every detail about tobacco harvesting that I know, you can see there is still a story progression through the life of growing tobacco: this story is a representation of the story that I have learned beginning with the founding of Jamestown in 1607 through the eighteenth century with the start of the industrial revolution. Another topic we focused on that greatly changed my outlook on history and gave me a better understanding of it was the in-depth explanation of Native American and African American lives during these two centuries. In conclusion, I feel that most U.S. history classes in the american school system leave out many of the more dark times in our countries history that we inflicted upon other people and led to a disbelief in our histories credibility, but finally I feel like I can say with confidence that I know the history of the Chesapeake Bay.

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Blog #1- My Chesapeake Ethic

What are my Ethics about the Chesapeake bay; such a loaded question don’t you think? How could any person put their whole moral code into one summary and accurately depict who they are? I feel that most people can describe a moral code they aspire to follow but do not succeed in doing so at all times… And many people wonder why this is the case, I know I do: but to understand this enigma we need to reflect on how one develops an ethic.

I believe everyone’s moral code is determined by two areas of thought. The first category of thought comes from subjective moments of quick, reflex-like, thoughts/actions that one makes in the heat of the moment and the second category of thought which are the thoughts that follow and reflect upon the first category. This separation between instinctual and experiential thinking brings us to the age old conflict of human Nature vs. Nurture; The struggle between our animalistic nature stemming from our evolutionary origins and the social brainwashing of human society be it good or bad.

From my personal experience each initial thought is to benefit myself and then I run it through a societal moral system and see if it is the right thing to do or not. For example, if I finish some food and have a piece of trash in my hand my first thought is to get rid of it and then I find a trash can to throw it away in but lets break down the situation more. The first thought is to get rid of it immediately and conserve the most energy doing so, which I believe to be a result of survival instincts telling me that I am not effected by the trash and should put my energy towards something that will help my survival. But I have been taught that leaving trash on the ground is bad for the environment and will eventually have a terrible impact of the environment and should place it in a trash can. So then a course of action is to be made, do I drop it on the ground anyways? Do I go find  a trashcan now? Or should I hold onto it till I walk by a trashcan later? Now in an example like that an environmental ethic can easily be determined by whether I chose to hold onto the trash or not, but which thoughts do we take into account when determining ethics? What if the answers aren’t so black and white?

Where ever I go I see trash all over the ground, I pick up the trash, but many times I don’t. Why is that? It is not that my ethic is that people should pick up trash some of the time… it is that my moral ethic is that I should pick up any trash I see on the ground but I choose not to follow it some of the times. I wish I could pick up all the trash I see but many times my priorities are elsewhere, as many people are. I have never heard of even the most environmentally conscious person pulling their car over for every piece of trash they see on the highway, it is just not realistic. Sometimes I will be lazy and walk past trash and then convince myself to turn around and go pick it up and I begin to wonder how morality is measured and what determines a strong ethic and a weak one. If I had just picked up the trash in the first place does that make me a better person, or does knowing I could leave it and choosing to pick it up anyways make me better? It’s hard to measure morals because most times people don’t know what other people are thinking. The questions arise if other people ever have the thought of ignoring the trash or if they just naturally have the desire to pick it up without any societal influence, and if they say they do are they just not aware of those thoughts and have that they have subliminal thoughts?

I guess the reason I am breaking down what I believe to be the normal mode of thinking to a person is to understand my nature. I hope in doing so I can learn whether or not I am a good person who is making good choices or if I have flaws hidden somewhere deep beneath the surface.