The Story of Sarah Smith and the Historical Narrative of Virginia City



As stated in my presentation before, creating a historical narrative is very difficult. Not only is there a needed understanding of the local history of the chosen area (in this case Virginia City in the 1800’s) but also needed is a vast understanding of the social dynamics and various roles a person could find themselves in during their lives. Thus creating a believable character that can respond and understand these dynamic is the hardest part and as Jacob pointed out, my character in the drafts is very snarky. What would she think of children? Of Marriage? Of other races besides her own? These are questions I sought to answer.

Sarah Smith is a plain name for what I hope is a very complicated woman. I tried my hands at writing mini-letter entries that I wanted to provide a voice for Sarah, and indeed as people have noted, she is snarky about her position in life. As these letter snippets are fictional it also brings to light the parallel that the letters that actually exist in the historical narrative can somewhat “fictional” as well, enticing others to join and to leave out unsavory parts of their lives.

What I’ve discovered over the course of the research is just how complex these characters could become over their journey through the West. My only regret is that I wish I had delved deeper into the connections between gender and ethnicity as my Character is Caucasian in origin hailing from East side of the U.S. where there were stronger European centric ties. Although there are plenty of notable examples of ethnicity that was to be found in Virginia City as said before it is difficult to provide a detailed narrative that develops fully every single of the numerous identities that would have been found in the area.

Also found in this research is the identity that women had in this area which was the main focus of my paper. For example many women dispelled the notion that moving to the West was to “cultivate” for the greater good. My character for example simply moved about looking for better ways to survive. It seems that the material culture reflects the notion that it wasn’t just a bombardment of European styles (although they certainly are there) but also a wide range of products relating to other ethnicities such as African American and Chinese who made up a sizable proportion of the population. Some of the research had to be attributed to other similar settlements due to their differing populations of assemblages that contained households rather than saloons.

As for today it seems that it is a bit disappointing that the current Virginia City seems to only focus on the more exciting aspects of its past and not the hardships that mining caused to both the men and women. Little mention is there outside of saloons and brothels and the people who lived within. Sarah herself would have easily ghosted by as another face in the crowd leaving only a minimal trace on the archaeological record. That is why this kind of research is important for the area, ignoring the population who may have not made a huge mark on the local history and yet remains in the physical is an aspect that should not be ignored. In the end I hope my paper illuminates the mindset that these women would have had in order to make the decisions that she did and the reasons why she had been enticed to travel to Virginia City.

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About Kirk

Kerstin Snodgrass is a 22 year old Archaeological Science student currently in her final year at the UW. Interested in a young age about arcaheology she has strived to continue her studies and eventually start working in the field within the coming year. Although not specialized at the moment her interests mostly include any work with textiles, sewing and knitting with other interests scattered throughout. At the moment she is studying Historical Archaeology, Ethnographic archaeology and archaeology in the public sector. On the sidelines she enjoys arts and crafts and learning French and looks forward to what her future brings. Born in Flordia, she was raised actually in the Northwest from a young age. From youth she gained interest in archaeology first learning about it from her mother's Tutankhamun books and decided to pursue that interest instead of becoming an ice cream truk driver at the age of 8. Her current goals are to graduate with her baceholors and to gain a job in the field hopefully starting with a job in the CRM or be put onto some field schools.

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