Digging Up The Past With Dr. Kathleen Deagan

March is both Women’s History Month and Florida Archaeology Month! Can you dig it? To celebrate the occasion, we are excavating the career of archaeologist Dr. Kathleen Deagan, whose work focuses on the colonial past of the Caribbean and St. Augustine.

Deagan began her journey in archaeology in 1965 – when she enrolled into the education and sociology programs at the University of Florida (UF). “All through that time, I kept trying to major in things that were appropriate for girls to get jobs in, young women,” she recounted in a 2012 interview with UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program. Deagan describes “sneaking” into anthropology courses – in particular those of archaeologist Charles Fairbanks – before finally switching majors and graduating in 1970. In 1971, she returned to UF to complete a PhD in archaeology under Fairbanks. (You can still read her 1974 dissertation “Sex, status and role in the Mestizaje of Spanish colonial Florida” online through UF Digital Collections.)

A news article from the Times Union with the title "Cold Feet Hamper Excavation Efforts" by Nancy Powell, printed in Jacksonville on Thursday, December 19, 1974.

In 1974, Deagan began her first position as an assistant professor at Florida State University (FSU). There she led archaeological field schools in St. Augustine for ten years. One of her first field schools was at Avero House (home to St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine) in conjunction with the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board. The team consisted of all-women students, which fascinated tourists at the time.

I’ve said this in so many talks it’s really a cliché by now, but they would always stare and ask questions, but one woman we heard just said to her son, now, you see, George, that’s what happens when young girls drop out of school. [Laughter] Because we all had boots and shovels and we were digging.

“Interview with Kathleen Deagan” by Paul Ortiz ( Interviewer ), March 23, 2012. (UFDC)

Since then, Deagan’s career has taken her to UF and Florida Museum of Natural History, where she continued to shed light on the daily lives of colonial St. Augustine as well as the Caribbean. For example, Deagan led an archaeological and historical investigation of Fort Mose from 1986-1988. Working in conjunction with Jane Landers, who specializes in African American history, the team worked for six months to evaluate documents from Spanish archives on the site prior to excavations. Their discoveries showed that African Americans played important roles in the rivalry and confrontations between England and Spain in the colonial Southeast. Their archaeology also filled in some of the details about daily life at Fort Mose.

Dr. Kathleen Kathleen Deagan discusses the Fort Mose excavation and its importance. (Florida Museum of Natural History)

Today, Deagan serves the city as a board member of University of Florida Historic St. Augustine, Inc. You can read more about her and her work in the numerous books, chapters, and papers published by Deagan over her career, including:

  • Artifacts of the Spanish Colonies of Florida and the Caribbean, 1500-1800. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. 1987. ISBN 978-0-874-74393-7.
  • Fort Mose: Colonial America’s Black Fortress of Freedom. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida. 1995. ISBN 978-0-813-01351-0. (with Darcie MacMahon).

3 thoughts on “Digging Up The Past With Dr. Kathleen Deagan

  1. Pingback: Fort Mose: A Community of Freedom – Governor's House Library

  2. Pingback: Meet the Archaeologists – Governor's House Library

  3. Pingback: Mapping the Past – Governor's House Library

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