Tuesday, January 01, 2019

DR. KATHLEEN DEAGAN: 10 WHO MAKE A DIFFERENCE: For nearly 50 years, Kathleen Deagan has helped unearth, reveal city’s heritage (SAR)

Great article by Margo Pope, a retired St. Augustine Record editor, the President of the St. Augustine Historical Society, on Dr. Kathleen Deagan, Ph.D., the indefatigable archaeologist who has worked for five decades documenting St. Augustine's rich Spanish colonial history.   Salud!

10 WHO MAKE A DIFFERENCE: For nearly 50 years, Kathleen Deagan has helped unearth, reveal city’s heritage

Archeologist Dr. Kathy Deagan stands in a trench on the grounds of the Youth Archaeological Park in St. Augustine. [PETER WILLOTT/THE RECORD]

By Margo C. Pope / Record correspondent
Posted at 2:01 AM
Kathleen Deagan’s nearly half century of digging up St. Augustine’s history almost didn’t happen.

“Really, it was the inspiration of a great teacher,” Deagan said in a recent interview.

The teacher was Charles H. Fairbanks, Ph.D., then chair of the University of Florida department of anthropology and a leader in the field of historical archaeology.

“Archaeology just captured me,” she said. “I didn’t even imagine I would be an archaeologist or, if it was even possible to be one. Girls just didn’t do things like that for one and there were no real jobs in the profession then other than in education.”

The federal antiquities act in 1966 demanded a need for more archaeologists because of the requirements imposed on excavating, collecting and reporting on ancient sites and their artifacts.

Deagan, now 70, had changed majors several times before making her final decision on a major. She started out in education, then switched to social work and then tried journalism. “I kept sneaking in Fairbanks’ courses in anthropology and archaeology and I ended up with more credits there than in any of my majors.”

Fairbanks told her that she had to either major in anthropology or she would have to spend another semester in school finishing up another major.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology in 1970 and then went to California with friends where she worked at other jobs. Nine months later, she came back to UF and began her doctoral program in anthropology and graduated with a Ph.D. in 1974. Her first job was at FSU as an assistant professor and began leading field schools in St. Augustine for future archaeologists. Her first field school here was in the Spanish Quarter at the Avero House, formerly known as the Old Spanish Inn and part of the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board programs. She met Bob Steinbach, the board’s archeologist who gave her insights on the history. She joined UF’s faculty in 1982 as an associate curator at the Florida State Museum in anthropology.


How long have you been in our community?: Part-time, working, since 1972. Full-time since 2015.

Family information: Husband of 22 years was Dr. Larry Harris, wildlife ecologist at the University of Florida (passed in 2010). Four stepchildren and 6 grandchildren.

Education: BA in anthropology, 1970; PhD in anthropology in 1974, both degrees earned at University of Florida.

Occupation: Archaeology professor and researcher (Florida State University,1974-1982; University of Florida, 1982-2010). Currently: Emerita Curator emerita, Florida Museum of Natural History, UF; emerita professor, UF.

Civic and Community Involvement: Mission Museum Planning Advisory Group, Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine, 2018; Trustee, Flagler College, 2017-present; Board of Directors, University of Florida Historic St. Augustine Inc., 2008-present; St. Augustine Archaeological Association Board of Directors, 2016-present; Board of Directors, Historic St. Augustine Research Institute at Flagler College, 2006-present; St. Augustine Historical Society, Board of Trustees, 2009-2012, president 2013; Advisory panel, Florida Park Service, Ft. Mose Museum, 2007-2009; Florida Historical Commission, 2002-2004; Florida Humanities Council, Chairperson, 2002-2004; National Register Advisory Panel, 2000-2003.

Awards and honors include: Florida Trust for Historic Preservation Award’s Outstanding Performance in Archaeology, 2018; St. Augustine Historical Society’s Herschel Shepard Award - Extraordinary contributions to the preservation of St. Augustine’s historical legacy (inaugural recipient, 2017); Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2016; Florida Department of State, Bob Williams Award (Recognition of a public employee for service so exceptional that it changed the course of historic preservation in Florida, 2009); recipient of the Order of La Florida, City of St. Augustine, 2008.

Much of Deagan’s career was and has been intertwined with Florida’s longtime preservation architect Herschel Shepard and Florida’s leading historian of Spanish Florida exploration and settlement, the late Michael Gannon, Ph.D. Deagan was a student of Gannon’s in his Florida history course in the 1960s. She said he embodies Florida history and “I can’t emphasize that enough. Both Herschel and Mike have been lifelong inspirations. Not just for their wonderful scholarship but because of their generous, kind characters.”

Gannon died in 2016.

Shepard’s recent collaboration with Deagan was on the historic Tovar House, owned by the St. Augustine Historical Society. “When you talk about what she has one done for St. Augustine, she has given St. Augustine stature in archaeology because she served on so many national boards and written so much with her books,” Shepard said.

He noted, too, the significance of her work finding the actual site where St. Augustine was founded in 1565 by the Spanish, backing up its claim as the first permanent settlement of European origin in what are today’s United States.

Historian Susan Parker, Ph.D., is a longtime friend and colleague of Deagan.

“As soon as Kathleen Deagan arrived to do research in St. Augustine, she changed the way St. Augustine saw its past,” Parker said. “She brought families and lesser- known members of society of centuries past to our attention. Her influence reaches far beyond St. Augustine through her publications and her many students.”

When first digging in St. Augustine on Spanish Street, the materials found gave her insight into the inner marriages between the Spanish soldiers and Native Indian women. “I fell in love with St. Augustine for the story,” Deagan said.

Today, she continues to work in St. Augustine, most recently on sites at the Fountain of Youth and at the adjacent Mission Nombre de Dios. The two properties form the original town and 1565 landing site.

Her work in St. Augustine covers so much time and so many locations that when asked about her work, she notes that it includes “dozens of sites under the city’s streets.”

She still approaches each site she digs with strict preparation asking herself, “Are we going to mess this up? I think about the worst possible things that could happen and then make sure they don’t.”

Deagan said she is motivated to continue to tell the city’s story because of the response by the community. “The people are passionate about the same things I am, so committed here to history and heritage.”

Her legacy, she said, is to ensure that St. Augustine’s story is told accurately and its history is preserved for future generations.

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