In recent years, Dr. John Jensen and the history department at the University of Rhode Island have taken a dive into different underwater archaeology studies.
Jensen has done most of his research work through the university along with associate professor Roderick Mather in a series of different projects. In their most recent project, Jensen and Mather have taken on a multi-year task on sunken German war ships that were part of World War I.
Through their underwater research, Jensen said that the history department has come together to establish a physical space for students that will not only aid in the research done under water, but in other areas of history as well. Rather than just going down and documenting shipwrecks, Jensen said they want to improve the way everyone else has seen it so far.
The Applied History Lab is newly established officially about a month ago, according to Jensen. The lab is aiding in the research being done within the university. “The history lab is kind of the coming together of about 14 years of work and ideas, trying to integrate using the past in terms of trying to understand and shape the future,” he said.
Students have been involved in the underwater research done through the university. Mather has run a field school in Bermuda for years and other students at the university were also taken abroad to Israel with history professor Bridget Buxton where they did research there as well.
“We have a real strong commitment to getting students involved in this work that we do,” said Jensen, “The underwater research is part of it, but really it’s the bigger package of applied history.”
One of the things Jensen has been trying to do through his research is improve the language people use to talk about the past and the present. “We are trying to improve how we think about and how we talk about and manage cultural heritage particularly in the coastal zone and the water,” he said.
The projects that Jensen tackles are not always necessarily something he is highly interested in. However, the historical research that he conducts reveals a story and the way that piece of history was perceived many years ago.
“I have never dove physically or metaphorically into a project that we didn’t find something absolutely fascinating,” Jensen said. The research tells Jensen extraordinary stories that reveal why that site might be facing the problems that it faces today. “It helped us see the world in a very different way than others have seen it so far,” Jensen said.
At the moment, the history department is focusing on coastal and underwater research. However, they hope to be able to integrate things in like public health and other areas of history that connect up with what the university does.