CLIC Maps Changes of Irish Coast

Erica Kowsz '11
Erica Kowsz '11
If she ever had trouble falling asleep during her trip to Ireland this summer, Erica Kowsz ’11 could have just counted sheep. They roamed outside her tent on the abandoned island of Inis Airc, and although living with them for almost a week was a bizarre experience, Kowsz says they made good company.

Kowsz and several of her peers lived on Inis Airc for six days as part of the Cultural Landscapes of the Irish Coast (CLIC) Heritage Project. The project encompasses much more than one student can handle during a single summer, so Kowsz is concentrating on heritage preservation. Her project is funded by the Levitt Research Fellows Program, which is open to students who wish to work in collaboration with a faculty member on an issue related to public affairs.

The CLIC Project is run by Assistant Professor of Anthropology Nathan Goodale and Ian Kujit of the University of Notre Dame. It is in its third of five anticipated years of interdisciplinary study, and employs archaeology, paleoenvironmental studies, history, linguistics, photographic research, and ethnography to explore the changing rural coastal life ways in Western Ireland. Project members explore everything from Bronze Age occupation, to early Christian monastic occupation, to 19th century famine era villages. This year, they have landed on Inis Airc, which was abandoned in 1960 after three young inhabitants drowned. The catastrophe caused a governmental uproar and led to resettlement on the mainland.

While other students are working on archaeological research this summer, Kowsz is studying what it means to conserve culture and how that might be possible. She has found topic just as complex as her peers’ scientific analyses.

“It’s definitely a trickier business than I would have initially given it credit for,” she said. She will attempt to answer questions about how groups of people perceive their mutual past. For example, who decides what is important? Some nations and ethnicities repudiate past eras in an effort to progress or establish certain behaviors and ideals as immoral. What are other ways in which groups perceive their past and how do they apply it to their modern lives? These questions should help determine why some people believe in extensive cultural conservation and why others do not.

To supplement her readings on heritage preservation, Kowsz became involved in the recording of oral histories. Through ethnography and archaeology, the team hopes to provide valuable details and explanations that are unknown to written records. Kowsz handled production of video materials that included interviews with islanders and CLIC project members. In addition to videography, she also participated in ethnographic interviews and excavation, conducted surveys, and recorded houses, mills, cemeteries and structures from the Bronze Age though the 19th century.

She saw real world implications to what she had read in books – the Irish people are protective of their past, and their veneration for custom is important to take into account when doing research. Kowsz has done previous archaeological work, but this is the first that has stirred sensitivity in natives.

“For [previous] projects, focused on the deep past, it was all too easy for me to lose sight of the human element,” she said. “Working on CLIC this summer was a very different experience for me.”

Kowsz says she is using the summer to decide where within the subjects of anthropology and archaeology her interests lie. “At this point, I’m all about new experiences,” she said.

As a double major in archaeology and Hispanic Studies, she hopes to go abroad next year to Peru so that she can do research while improving her Spanish skills. She wants to be an archaeologist someday, but in the meantime, keeps herself busy on campus. She recently became a HOC (Hamilton Outing Club) officer, and is a writing tutor and member of the Hamilton Environmental Action Group.

-- by Allison Eck '12

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