This article popped up on my Twitter newsfeed recently. I followed the link because a) it was about a historical discovery and b) it was about Newfoundland (a two part Venn diagram of things I like, if you will). The article discusses the archaeological discovery of a 400 year old cannon at the community of Cupids, Canada’s oldest British colony. The discovery is important, as it provides physical evidence of the defensive tactics taken by early colonists that, up until now, has only been supported through documentary evidence.
However, what struck me the most about the article was one of the comments left by a reader:
“A complete waste of taxpayers money. Over 400 yrs ago. What purpose does it serve to dig these things up other then to provide acdemics with jobs?”
Good question. And, as historians in training, we need to be able to answer this question. In this case, I don’t think the “we need to know about the past in order to understand the future” line would cut it with this guy (or gal). It seems we are entering a time (or perhaps it is just me entering this field) where academics are having to justify their work more and more. People want to know why your research matters; what implications it has for the present; how it contributes to society; why they should care.
Right now, I don’t think I have an answer that would satisfy this person. But I hope to have one by the time I finish this degree.