History Alumna Pursues Underwater Archaeology

Her field work has included the Blackbeard and USS Monitor shipwrecks

Kim Eslinger ’98 entered Roanoke College with the intention of becoming a doctor. At the end of her freshman year, after taking the honors class “Turning Points,” Eslinger decided she wanted to pursue history. By the end of her junior year, Eslinger announced her decision to study shipwrecks.

It came as no surprise that Eslinger wanted to enter maritime archaeology. Raised in upstate New York, she lived in an area known for its famous water battles and invasion routes during the French and Indian War, the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

“I grew up hearing stories of what was beneath the water and I wanted to pursue what no one else could see,” says Eslinger.

Pursuing shipwrecks is exactly what Eslinger did. She enrolled in East Carolina University for her master’s in maritime archaeology. After four semesters of class work, Eslinger left to finish her thesis and work in the field.

Eslinger’s field work includes the Blackbeard Shipwreck project, the USS Monitor project and the SS Commodore project. Each project employed Eslinger’s skills in various manners, with her primary work being conducted in the laboratory.

On the Blackbeard Shipwreck project, Eslinger spent the majority of her time in the laboratory working with recovered artifacts. At one point she was responsible for unloading the cannons as they were recovered.

For the SS Commodore project, Eslinger was involved with mapping the site and determining its integrity. In addition, Eslinger had to prove the site was the SS Commodore, a task she completed by matching the engine’s bore, stroke and type to the vessel.

The beauty of Eslinger’s job is that she is able to incorporate everything she learned at Roanoke.

“My degree in history from Roanoke College taught me the importance of [the sailor’s] untold stories, but my minor in theatre gave me an appreciation for the people themselves,” says Eslinger. “Archaeology is much like that – it takes the historical record and uses it as a guide, but then allows you to look at what people don’t want you to see… That’s what I do on a daily basis. I use the scraps people have lost over their lives and use them to fill out the picture of who they really were.”

As of now, Eslinger is working for C&C Technologies based in Lafayette, Louisiana. She is also responsible to the Minerals Management Service, and is involved in locating and protecting historic shipwrecks. Her thesis, “And all the men knew the colors of the sea … Archaeological and Historical Investigations of the SS Commodore” was successfully completed this past August.

Photos by Cindy Burnham, Nautilus Productions www.nautilusproductions.com