During Journey one, I became very focused on the idea of the duality and dynamics of ethics and social science in relation to our study of the history and sense of place in the Chesapeake region. On the ethical side of things, there seems to be an ever-infinite loop between obligations, values, and ideals and the inevitable exploitation derived from human nature. Similarly, from the social science angle, there is a palpable tension between getting an authentic perspective of the essence of the past and not being able or- more accurately- not wanting to be able to capture everything. As I stalk these ideas I come to something else, almost a counterargument, that this program has showed me even in this early stage, namely: the confrontation of troublesome things. The more one allows for the opportunity to get stuck or confined by the mind the more intense that experience becomes. Sometimes all one can do is to try to narrow things down, chip away, and gather what they can through time and adaptation. Focusing in on something singular and proceeding from there, as we saw on this journey, is one way that the transcendence of dynamics and duality can happen. Therefore, to advance from this initial philosophical struggle to encroachment toward an ultimate sense of a final project by the end of the semester, a starting point could be an idea related to our social science discussion prior to the journey. That idea would be Cultural Materialism, which has to do with how practices and interpretations of things are created in human society and culture. Influences from the natural world drive the things we value, the way we behave, and the impacts we exact upon the world.
This journey began in Jamestown, which was settled initially as an imperialistic and political response to the success of the Spanish, and over time as a means to develop England’s economic sphere of influence to a similar level to other European countries at the time. As a result, the focus became the production goods and services to bolster the British Empire. Many different groups of people attempted many types of goods and services. These ranged from glass blowing to blacksmithing and everything in-between. However, none of these managed to stick in any way similar to how tobacco took hold. This one plant, once it had established itself, shaped and enriched the entire colonial landscape. It allowed people to accumulate wealth, simplify their quality of life, make it more comfortable and predictable, and experience upward mobility. Later on in the journey, at the Milliner’s shop in Colonial Williamsburg, I learned about these strange porcelain jugs that were sitting on the counter. They would have been for several different types of tobacco that would have been sold as snuff for medicinal purposes. Tobacco had aphrodisiac-like properties, allowing people to feel better when they were ill or in pain. Also, which really surprised me, it could be fed to livestock to prevent them from getting parasites. However, while the influence of tobacco had many positive impacts, it also exhausted the soil, created a voracious consumption of available land, and led to the rise of slavery due to its labor-intensive demands.
This last negative impact we got to experience when we traveled from Williamsburg up to Germantown, Maryland. The place where we arrived was called Button farm, which is a 40-acre farm leased from the state and surrounded by 6,000 acres of Seneca Creek State Park Land. They are a living history museum that tries to replicate the experience of slavery in the 1850’s. While we were there, we couldn’t really get an authentic experience of slave work, but we did get a good look at some tools that would have been used for a variety of necessary practices. One of these was an ominous looking metal ring with four rods radiating off of it. We learned that this was a slave collar, and after learning how this was used, we got a good idea of how people were treated as a result of the progression of tobacco through cultural materialism. We also got a sense of all the ethics that were thrown aside. This stalking will end where it began. Not everything about the positive and negative aspects of the development of history can be captured easily. However, using the ideas of cultural materialism from social science, ethics from the humanities, and chipping away at dynamic subject matter, a more complex understanding of Chesapeake Regional history can be achieved.