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USF course delves into Egmont Key

University of South Florida instructors Dr. Brooke Hansen and Dr. Laura Harrison joined THPO Research Coordinator David Scheidecker and others on an excursion at Egmont Key. (Courtesy photo)

The University of South Florida’s recently offered a month-long online course that included research from the Seminole Tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) with Egmont Key as the focal point. Offered through USF’s Patel College of Sustainability, its purpose is to help students assess sustainability and heritage-at-risk locations through the use of visualization technologies.

“Our mission is to advance digitally-driven research in STEM fields, arts, and humanity,” said Dr. Laura Harrison, one of the course’s two instructors from the University of South Florida. “One of the areas that’s left out is the connection between heritage sites and contemporary studies.”

The course, titled “Applied Heritage and Sustainability Research,” took place from May 11 to June 5 through a hybrid of live and recorded class sessions. Harrison is the director of Access 3D Lab, an onsite facility that uses advanced technology for research. Dr. Brooke Hansen, the university’s director of Sustainable Tourism, has been part of sustainability research projects involved with the City of Tarpon Springs and Egmont Key.

Egmont Key is an island located at the mouth of Tampa Bay just off the coasts of St. Petersburg and Bradenton. It is home to the Egmont Key State Park and the Egmont Key Wildlife Refuge. Built in 1858, the Egmont Key Lighthouse is still active and is the region’s oldest structure. In the early 1760s, Egmont Key was named after John Perceval who was the Earl of Egmont. In 1898, Fort Dade was built to protect the United States from potential Spanish invasions during the Spanish-American War. In 1910, the island was a small town with several hundred residents.

During the Seminole Wars, the Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced Native Americans west. In the 1850s, Egmont Key was an internment camp for Seminoles. In 1858, Polly Parker was one of the island’s 160 imprisoned Seminoles who boarded the steamer Grey Cloud. There is documentation that there were Seminoles who died while in captivity. These historical accounts vastly differ from those usually taught in academia, which played a part in helping develop the course.

“We want to go the full-on interpretation about many aspects of the island because there are lots of other histories that aren’t told either, but the Seminole one is so engaging and so symbolic of the injustices against Native people in US history,” Hansen said.

The University of South Florida conducted workshops with sustainability efforts that included trips to Egmont Key with employees from the THPO. These workshops developed the Applied Heritage and Sustainability Research course. It was stated that multiple students’ extent of their knowledge of Native American history was limited to the Trail of Tears. This course helped them learn more about the plight of Native Americans.

“This class is really like the first time that I’m really learning so much about the history here,” said Shannon Ward, a student who grew up in Canada.

The course has learning objectives that include working with archaeological sites, professional development opportunities and the use of visualization and mapping applications. The course’s assignments are comprised of an analytic memo, drafting a sustainable tourism development plan and designating Egmont Key as a World Heritage Site.
Part of the course’s readings includes an excerpt from “Egmont Key: A Seminole Story,” a booklet that has input from Tribal members and the THPO’s research. Dr. Hansen, who has worked with tribes in New York, was very optimistic about what the course can become in the future. Her desire is to have more Tribal members be part of it. Dr. Paul Backhouse, senior director of the Seminole Tribe’s Heritage and Environment Resource Office, shared her sentiments.

“We want Egmont Key to be known,” Backhouse said. “It has been a great experience to see this happen.”

Aaron Tommie
Aaron has worked for the Tribe since 2015. He is inspired by people who are selfless, humble, and motivated. His family is the most important aspect of his life and is a die hard fan of the Los Angeles Lakers. He came to work for the Tribe to show his appreciation to his ancestors for the blessings Tribal citizens receive based on their foresight and the sacrifices they made. He loves mysteries and conspiracy theories and is a huge on a great story line or plot in something that is supposed to entertain him.