Chuck Meide is a maritime archaeologist who serves as the Director of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, the research arm of the of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum in Florida. Read the full text of his interview below to learn more about his job.
What is your title?
Director of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, or LAMP.
Where do you work?
LAMP is the research arm of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum.
Do you travel often? To where?
I have travelled extensively throughout my career, both as a student and professional. I have conducted fieldwork in various locations in the U.S. and in the Caribbean, Australia, and Ireland. In my current job, my travels for fieldwork are less frequent, since my institution’s research focus is regional, though I still travel regularly across the country and to Europe for professional conferences and also to conduct archival research.
What are the educational requirements for your job?
While there are jobs available for young archaeologists with a bachelor’s degree, it is usually considered that a master’s degree is a minimum requirement for an archaeologist. PhD degrees are required if an archaeologist wishes to enter academia for teaching and research, and though a PhD will typically ensure a better salary in other sectors, it is not necessarily required to work at a Museum, a government job, or a private consulting firm.
What is the salary range for someone with your type of job?
A newly graduated archaeology student with a master’s degree might be able to make $30,000 or $35,000. This can certainly go up, so that a leadership position might be able to make closer to $50,000. At the upper end, I know a government archaeologist who makes $75,000 and an acclaimed academic archaeologist at a university-run museum who makes over $100,000/year. Myself, as a Director at a relatively small non-profit museum, make closer to the middle of that range.
How many hours do you work per week?
I’m supposed to work 40 hours per week, but the reality is that I tend to work sometimes many more hours in order to get all of the research and everything else done.
Tell us about your research and the types of things you do.
I direct the research program for the museum and the day-to-day operations of my program are first and foremost. It is not always being out in the field or doing research, but staff and budgets that I have to manage as well as grants that need to be written. There is certainly a lot of day-to-day work that needs to be done in order to do research.
Typically in the summer months, I am conducting field research. I am out on a boat during the week days and sometimes for extended cruises like the survey we are conducting for the lost French fleet. In this case we might be gone for about a week at a time. We tend to work close to shore and are diving in relatively shallow water. The diving we are doing is generally lightweight diving though sometimes we are doing fairly heavy duty work such as raising substantial artifacts and cannons.
In addition to the field work, there are months and months of the year that we are conducting analysis, working in the laboratory with the data that we have found, and stabilizing the artifacts excavated. There is always the management of the program, and as a museum it is always important to maintain the visual experience. With the help of our education department, we are able to translate the work that we do with presentations and exhibits that benefit the visitors that are here to learn.
What is the most fascinating thing you have ever seen or done?
I’ve worked on some pretty fascinating projects and have been lucky in that respect. One of the most exciting things I have found as a shipwreck archaeologist was a bronze cannon that came off of a ship that wrecked in 1686. It was La Salle’s ship, so a French colonial vessel. La Salle was attempting to colonize what he believed was the New Orleans area, but was in fact off the coast of Texas.
That shipwreck was so important to the history of the State of Texas that the legislature of the state found the funds to build a cofferdam around the ship. This means that the ship was completely encircled and we were able to pump out the water and excavate the site as if we were on land. That was amazing to see the entire shipwreck and be a part of the entire operation, from the initial dives on the shipwreck through actually taking it apart piece by piece and removing cargo from inside the hull. This was really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I probably learned more about shipwreck archaeology in that year than at any other point in my training.
What are the personal rewards of your work?
It is very personally rewarding to go out to sea with a hand-picked team and face challenges and to really have to work together as a team in order to accomplish our goals. The challenges are what I like most because you never know what they are going to be, and the diversity of these challenges require us to always think on our feet. With safety always first and foremost, we always find ways to overcome these challenges and bring back the data that these shipwrecks or time capsules of the past hold.
Certainly there is nothing like being the first person in 300 years to touch an object that was last seen centuries ago. These artifacts have not seen sunlight in all of those years and to think about the personal stories of those who were on the vessel is a great feeling.
How does your work benefit the public?
We like to think what we do is relevant to the public and I think that it is. Polls show that most people believe that history museums are worth funding and like to go to these museums whether they are on vacation or they are within the community. Museums definitely help the quality of life in these communities. Lessons are learned at both science and history museums, whether it is math and science or the history of those who came before us. Another key aspect of what we do is bringing data and artifacts back onto land and interpreting them for the public, including members of our community and visitors from practically all over the world.
What else could someone with your background do?
With a background as a maritime archaeologist there is a variety of jobs that are out there. There is the private sector, government sector and academia. The largest employers in archaeology are what are called cultural resource management firms. There is a lot of legislature that mandates when any construction jobs occur, that archaeologists must go in and make sure that no archaeological resources that are impacted. Therefore, there is a constant need for professional archaeologists to do these kinds of projects so our basic infrastructure can make progress. For example, bridges can be built and our beaches may be replenished by offshore dredging.
There are also government jobs such as those with the National Park Service and NOAA which we are working with on the French fleet survey. Private jobs such as mine that are in museums and are more research oriented may include putting together and interpreting research and then creating exhibits for the public. Lastly, academia is always an option. There are numerous professors that teach archaeology and marine archaeology all across the country.
It is a great position to hold, and I have found that if you are a hard worker and dedicated, you can make a career for yourself.
What sparked your initial interest in ocean sciences?
Growing up on the ocean and spending so much time at the beach and in the ocean as a kid. Also, growing up in northeast Florida near the first European settlement in the U.S. influenced me and gave me a love of history.
Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?
Probably my professor at Florida State University, George R. Fischer. He was the founder of the underwater archaeology program for the National Park Service.
Looking back, was there anything you would have done differently in your education or career journey?
I am happy where I am, and I think through a bit of luck, I made good choices with my academic career. There were choices I made such as taking a year off from graduate school to work on the Belle project. That was a great experience and was worth doing. At the same time, it did not keep me from finishing my graduate degree. I went to Florida State University for my undergraduate and my master’s degree and did my PhD studies at the College of William of Mary. These were all wonderful institutions and gave me a lot of great opportunities to do fieldwork as well as laboratory work. I was able to receive broad experience that I have then put to use with my job here, as well as share with the next generation of scientists as they come here to study and work with us.
What obstacles did you encounter along the way?
As with many students, financial obstacles were probably some of the bigger challenges I faced during my schooling. Higher education can be expensive. I was fortunate to get scholarships and graduate assistantships, and I also would get archaeology jobs in the summers, earning enough to pay off my credit card bills.
What are your hobbies?
I love anything to do with the water, swimming at the beach, etc. There are some maritime archaeologists who don’t really enjoy diving for fun—I am definitely not one of them, I really appreciate diving recreationally, especially if the water is nice and clear, as most of my working dives are conducted in poor visibility. I am a scuba instructor and I enjoy introducing others to the world of diving, and I had a great time teaching my kids how to dive. In addition to water activities, I enjoy reading, both history and fiction.