I joined the steady stream of visitors and well-wishers dropping by St Patrick’s church in Lowell yesterday to get a glimpse of the archeological dig now in progress. Three professors from Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland are engaged in a joint venture with UMass Lowell the object of which is to learn more about the lives of the early Irish residents of Lowell. Because the lawn in front of the church is thought to have been undisturbed since before the church’s construction, that spot is most likely to yield artifacts from 19th Century Lowell.
It’s easy for historians to study the upper classes of year’s ago. Their members tended to be literate letter writers and diary keepers and a rich documentary record of their lives and achievements have been preserved. But the men and women of the early Acre were too busy surviving each challenging day to have left words for us to study. That doesn’t mean that we are now deprived of the means of learning about their lives and their world. In his 1977 book, “In Small Things Forgotten,” James Deetz, a professor of historical archeology at the University of Virginia explained the historical importance of yesterday’s household goods:
It is terribly important that the “small things forgotten” be remembered. For in the seemingly little and insignificant things that accumulate to create a lifetime, the essence of our existence is captured. We must remember these bits and pieces, and we must use them in new and imaginative ways so that a different appreciation for what life is today, and was in the past, can be achieved.