El Presidio – A Primer

It may be summer, but school is already in session for the students enrolled in Anthropology 136e, a course on digital documentation and representation right here in San Francisco’s beautiful Presidio. CoDA’s own Michael Ashley and Ruth Tringham are leading this Berkeley-run course, which had its first session on Tuesday.

The aim of the course is for the students to produce innovative representations of the Presidio’s cultural heritage through digital media, to be presented to the public by the end of six weeks. In this case, cultural heritage consists not only of the physical evidence of native, Spanish, Mexican, and American occupation, but the intangible aspects as well. Every student will produce a representation of a skill which would have been used by the inhabitants of the site, such as carpentry and pottery. (For more information on intangible heritage and its significance, check out UNESCO’s page here).

With an ambition assignment ahead of them, it was time for the students to get to know the site. Liz Clevenger of the Archaeology Lab of the Presidio Trust led the morning tour, giving the students the Presidio’s early history as Spain’s northernmost military fort.¬†Though it’s a parking lot now, this area was once the footprint of El Presidio itself, the three-walled fort which housed the Spanish soldiers and their families.

Liz Clevenger gives students details about El Presidio de San Francisco

Liz Clevenger gives students details about El Presidio de San Francisco

Most of the original adobe architecture did not survive into the modern day, but the archaeologists at the Presidio have excavated a portion of the original chapel’s serpentine foundation. They overlaid the small excavated area with a reconstruction of the chapel’s foundation, a representation which blends modern interpretation with the original context.

Liz Clevenger gives students details about El Presidio de San Francisco as part of the Anthro 136e course

In the afternoon, Presidio Trust archaeologist Kari Jones took the class down Lovers’ Lane (so named because it was the most direct path between the Presidio and the city, giving soldiers an easy route to visit their sweethearts) to see the restoration project of El Polin, the Presidio’s earliest known civilian site.

Liz Clevenger gives students details about El Presidio de San Francisco as part of the Anthro 136e course

Originally a small, two-family plot of land, El Polin went undiscovered until Barbara Voss began to explore the area in the early 2000′s. Telltale clusters of terracotta roof tiles allowed Voss and her team to locate the original settlement, which was inhabited by a retired Spanish soldier and his family in the 19th century. This restoration project, coupled with historical research will create a more intimate narrative of ¬†life in the Presidio during this time period, allowing visitors to experience it from the perspective of the Briones and Miramontes families.

Day 1 came loaded with information on the Presidio and different ways in which its history can be recorded and relayed. Over the next six weeks our students will become even more immersed in its rich history, and by the end of it will have come up with their own original interpretations and presentations. Stay tuned!

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