Michael Jarvis Headshot

Michael J. Jarvis

  • Associate Professor of History
  • Director of the Digital Elmina Project; Director of Smiths Island Archaeology Project

PhD, College of William and Mary, 1998

455 Rush Rhees Library
(585) 275-4558

Office Hours: Tu 2:00-4:00


Curriculum Vitae

Research Overview

Interests: Museum Studies; Atlantic History 1450-1850 (Transnational); Material Culture and Archaeology (Transnational); Digital History

Historical Research

My abiding research interests revolve around the creation of oceanic, imperial and intercolonial networks of trade, migration, and communication and the maritime infrastructure that underpinned them. My work is broadly interdisciplinary; trained as a social historian and historical archaeologist, I also incorporate material culture, architecture, landscape/seascape studies, environmental history, and sensitivity to gender and race in the act of being historically constructed throughout the early Modern Atlantic World. Although my earlier research has focused on multiracial maritime communities in Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Caribbean and Eastern North America and seeks connections and contrasts between Spanish, Dutch, French, and British trade and settlement patterns, I have since 2016 heavily researched maritime West Africa, particularly the communities surrounding European gold- and slave-trade forts and the circum-Atlantic coastal ship and canoe transits that sustained the more heavily studied trans-Atlantic slave trade. Adding Atlantic Africa to my understanding of Caribbean and colonial British North American history helps me interpret global dynamics – the expansion of empires and capitalism, colonization as a process, ethnogenesis, mass migrations, environmental degradation, the contagion of revolutions and revolutionary ideals – in new ways within a multi-sited comparative framework.
I address many of these subjects in my book In the Eye of All Trade: Bermuda, Bermudians, and the Maritime Atlantic World, 1680-1783 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press/OIEAHC, 2010), which won the American Historical Association’s James A. Rawley Book Prize in Atlantic History. I am currently completing Isle of Devils, Isle of Saints: An Atlantic History of Puritan Bermuda, 1609-1684 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2022) as a prequel that expands our notion of a Puritan Atlantic and argues for an early complex multiracial achievement of colonial ethnogenesis inflected by Bermuda’s profoundly maritime environment. 

My research methods and student training combines archaeological and archival records to expand the range of questions we can ask of the past, and finds exciting possibilities where the two intersect, overlap, and sometimes conflict. Archaeological sites and material culture can shed light on the lives and activities of poor settlers, enslaved persons, sailors, women, and children who are rarely and poorly documented in historic documents, as well as reveal illicit socializing and smuggling activities deliberately hid from record-keeping authorities. Drawing on thirty years of archaeological fieldwork excavating colonial and Revolutionary sites in Bermuda and the United States, I particularly focus on the earliest sites of English settlement, where European adaptation to a new American environment and native inhabitants (or in Bermuda’s case a lack thereof) is especially profound. In 1995 I was part of the Jamestown Rediscovery field school that located the southern palisade of the original 1607 James Fort and also excavated several adjoining New Town sites for the NPS. 


My current American archaeological fieldwork takes sixty-acre Smiths Island as a unit of study to investigate Bermuda’s development from the colony’s first farmstead in 1610 to the present, systematically identifying and investigating sites spanning a four-hundred year history. Since 2012, my five-week U of R summer fields schools have trained more than forty students in archaeology field and research methods as we excavated eleven sites, including a circa 1615 early cabin, 18th-19th c. smallpox and yellow fever quarantine site, an early 19th-century free black family homestead, and a cave site that enslaved Bermudians apparently used for gatherings. The field school teaches undergraduate students archival research, remote sensing, and excavation methods, artifact identification and analysis, and site recording techniques. The Smiths Island Archaeology Project public outreach website shares our findings in real-time with the general public and has had more than 124,000 unique visitors since its launch in 2012. The field school has, unfortunately, been suspended due to COVID-related travel restrictions, but it is hoped it can be restored in 2022. 

Digital History

I am also an early adopter of/strong advocate for/avid practitioner of Digital Public History, who uses cutting-edge technology to digitally capture and analyze historic sites and networked computer approaches to share my research findings with a broad global public via digital dissemination. I regularly use photogrammetry, laser scanners, drones, 3D modeling software, GIS, and videogame engines to record, examine, interpret, experiment with, and visualize history spatially and create interactive interpretive possibilities for enabling users to virtual visit and “tour” places in the present and past that would otherwise be difficult or impossible for them to experience. No longer a “lone scholar in the archive,” I now collaborate regularly with computer scientists, structural engineers, videogame designers, VR/AR/XR technologists, website architects, videographers, conservators, museum professionals, and heritage specialists and work with students in a wide array of disciplines in project teams.
 I first began 3D modeling on the Smiths Island archaeological sites I was actively destroying as I excavated in order to take high-resolution 3D snapshots of stratigraphic surfaces for later study. I transitioned soon after to photogrammetric modeling of the many standing historical buildings in the Town of St. George’s, Bermuda first capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that I had intensively researched to write my first book, Bermuda's Architectural Heritage: St. George's (Bermuda National Trust, 1998). This became the Virtual St. George’s Project, a Digital History initiative that combined empirical and quantitative New Social History methods with 2D and 3D GIS spatial analysis to create an interactive humanistic geospatial laboratory and multi-year historical simulation experience. Students in this project-based digital history course researched individual households across ten generations, created 3D renderings of their properties at various key years (1700, 1775, 1812), and designed educational video games that interactivity shared their historical discoveries. By stressing public history and digital history alongside traditional historical and interdisciplinary training, I hope to prepare majors and graduate students to become 21st-century historians and pioneer new interactive and immersive digital ways to research and understand historical subjects.
During the five years I served as Director of UR’s Digital Media Studies program, I helped create a curriculum that evenly blended computational science and humanities skillsets within a laddered sequence of project-based design and development courses culminating in three-semester group capstone projects. I also developed the video and computer labs of Ronald Rettner Hall for Media Arts and Innovation to support DMS student work, adding 3D printers, building cutting-edge computers and creating a Digital Technologies Lending Library to give students and faculty access to emerging technologies to use in their own project development.
Digital Public History and Archaeology came together as well in my DigitalElmina.org site, which showcases a collaborative partnership between the U of R, Syracuse University, University of Ghana, and Ghana Museums and Monuments Board begun in 2016 by Archaeology, Technology and Historic Structures (ATHS) Program Director Renato Perucchio. This multi-year initiative involves Ghanaian and American faculty and students in digitally recording, modeling, and structurally analyzing Elmina Castle and other gold- and slave-trade forts that are collectively UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Three summer field schools (2017-2019) have meticulously recorded much of Elmina Castle, which was built in 1482 and is the oldest surviving Atlantic Slave Trade base in Sub-Saharan Africa. During the field schools I train American and Ghanaian students in laser scanning, photogrammetry, 360 degree spherical photography, and aerial drone photo surveying as we documented 120 of the castle’s 160 rooms and areas. In 2019, we also recorded and structurally analyzed Fort Amsterdam (Kormantin) and did extensive archaeological testing in now-collapsed portions of the fort. To date, the project has digitally recorded in part or in full 12 of Ghana’s 28 surviving European forts and castles. I am currently pursuing NEH Digital Humanities grants organized around a Black Past Lives Matter digital initiative to make Fort Kormantin, Elmina, and other slave-trade sites virtually accessible to a global public. 

Public History

 A commitment to Public History runs through all my research interests and professional practices. It is vital that scholars make the past accessible and relevant to a broader public as well as to university students and our academic peers. Archaeology unearths new information to complement documentary research. Digital modeling and simulations help us to better visualize and understand an often murky and unevenly told early Atlantic past. Digital tools now enable us to virtually stand in the shoes and see reconstructed worlds through the eyes of past people and interact with those worlds, making the past more tangible and relevant to “born digital” Gen Z students who have grown up playing videogames. Rather than bemoan the ubiquity of digital media and decline in reading the printed page, I try to hack commercial and industry applications and put them to humanistic uses. I make history with a camera, trowel, website, scanner, and computer as well as the pen and embrace rather than bemoan that the discipline is changing. 
My commitment to public history is pedagogical as well as philosophical. Since coming to UR, I’ve supervised more than 41 Public History undergraduate internships based in Rochester’s rich array of museums, archives, historic sites, and education centers. These internships let students “try on” a potential career path for a semester and have inspired many to go on to museum studies/library sciences graduate programs and jobs. HIS 240/440, a formal Public History Theory and Practice Rochester community partner-based seminar offered in 2019, took a decided digital turn due to COVID pandemic disruptions when the class shifted the physical museum exhibit focused on Rochester’s Jazz History designed for a city library to the digital exhibit Spirt of The Pythodd. Although challenging, “learning by doing” collaborative team history-based projects both mirror public historians’ future work environments and demand students learn a wide range of different skills needed to design, develop, and disseminate historical truths of their own devising. 

Graduate Research Fields

I offer the following fields for graduate research: U.S. and the World 1500-1865; Digital & Public History; Atlantic World History 1450-1820; Maritime History in the Age of Sail; Digital Humanities Design and Development; Atlantic World Historical Archaeology. For more information on our MA and PhD programs, see our graduate program page.

I am accepting new graduate student advisees for our MA and PhD programs.

Courses Offered (subject to change)

  • HIST 162:  Early America to 1783, Syllabus
  • HIST 196:  Black Past Lives Matter: Frederick Douglass’s Rochester, Syllabus
  • HIST  200 :  Gateway Research Seminar: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN , Syllabus
  • HIST 240/440:   Public History: Theory and Practice, Syllabus
  • HIST 280/280W/497:  Introduction to Historical Archaeology: Field and Research Methods, Syllabus
  • HIST 282/282W/471:  Digital Hands-On History
  • HIST 285/285W:  Digital History: Building a Virtual St. George's, Syllabus
  • HIST 302W/402:  Spatial History: Putting the Past in its Place, Syllabus
  • HIST 304W/404:  Readings in Atlantic History
  • HIST 360W/460:  America and the World to 1865
  • HIST 365W/465:  Topics in Early American History, Syllabus

Selected Publication Covers

Selected Publications

  • In the Eye of All Trade: Bermuda, Bermudians and the Maritime Atlantic World, 1680-1783(Chapel Hill, 2010)
  • "The Binds of the Anxious Mariner: Patriarchy, Paternalism, and the Maritime Culture of Eighteenth-Century Bermuda," Journal of Early Modern History XIV (June 2010): 1-43.
  • "Maritime Masters and Seafaring Slaves in Bermuda, 1680-1783," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd series LIX (July 2002):585-622.
  • Bermuda's Architectural Heritage: St. George's. volume II, Bermuda National Trust Architectural Heritage Series (Hamilton, Bermuda, 1998).
  • "The Vingboons Chart of the James River, circa 1617," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., LIV:357-74 (1997), with Jeroen van Driel.
  • "'The Fastest Vessels in the World': The Origin and Evolution of the Bermuda Sloop, 1620-1800." Bermuda Journal of Archaeology and Maritime History VII:31-50 (1995).