History and the Sea

Indiana Sarah Blog - Sarah Ward Maritime Archaeologist

I recently did an interview with Alex Calvo, from CIMSEC, the Center for International Maritime Security. Alex is a Professor of International Relations and International Law, currently at Nagoya University (Japan), and an expert on Asian security and defence issues.

As well as being a member of CIMSEC and Taiwan’s South China Sea Think-Tank, he is currently writing a book about Asia’s role and contribution to the Allied victory in the Great War. In short, he is one smart guy and, unbelievably, I met him on Twitter!

Alex has done a few interviews for CIMSEC and I have to hand it to him − his were some of the most intelligent questions I’ve been asked in a long time. I would absolutely love all my interviews to be like this, as it truly got me to the heart of a few issues in a clever, enjoyable and succinct way.

You can read the full interview on the CIMSEC website here.

That said, I’ve pulled out some of the bits from the interview that I enjoyed the most. I’m saving the South China Sea situation for a dedicated post, but here’s a bit of the who, what and why of the Sarah behind Indiana Sarah …


CIMSEC: When did you decide to become a maritime archaeologist and why?

Sarah: As a child I had a fascination with the sea. I grew up on my parents’ boat, diving and exploring the shipwrecks of Tangalooma Island (near Brisbane, Australia). I was obsessed with Jacques Cousteau and when not splashing about in the water, would spend hours poring over his books and films. Then having worked in finance for a number of years, and with an MBA under my belt, I decided that life was too short and it was time that I did what I loved. A water baby with a passion for the past, I eventually abandoned my desk job, took the plunge and proved that it is possible to turn your passion into a challenging and rewarding career.

CIMSEC: Which project are you currently working on? Could you tell us a bit about it?

Sarah: My current research work is focused on the maritime archaeology of China, the maritime silk route and the early Ming Navy, notably the voyages of Zheng He and the resulting connections with Africa. I’m currently investigating evidence suggesting that one of the Zheng He fleet wrecked on the East African coast. This is significant as it could be the first vessel relating to the voyages that has been found. If so, it would give us an incredible insight into the expansionist Ming maritime policy and today’s parallels.

CIMSEC: Do you use unmanned submarines in your work? Do they offer the potential to radically transform our understanding of the maritime past?

Sarah: Yes, quite often. In the past, for example, I’ve worked with the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney to carry out a high-resolution shipwreck survey in deep water using Sirius, an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). The submersible is equipped with a full suite of oceanographic instruments, including a high-resolution stereo camera pair and strobes, a multibeam sonar, depth and conductivity/temperature sensors, Doppler Velocity Log (DVL) including a compass with integrated roll and pitch sensors, Ultra Short Baseline Acoustic Positioning System (USBL), and forward-looking obstacle avoidance sonar. The result is effectively a 3D map of the shipwreck site to millimetric accuracy. This technology allows us to locate, identify and survey submerged sites with greater accuracy than ever before, in smaller timeframes, and in deep water and other environments not previously accessible to divers. The result is high quality, often real-time data that can be used for interpretation, education, dissemination, and site monitoring in new and exciting ways.

Want to read more? You can find the full interview here.

Indiana Sarah - Sarah Ward, Maritime Archaeologist

A special thanks must also go to Alex Calvo and the team from the CIMSEC for organising this. If you would like more information on CIMSEC, please click here. Information on how to join is also online here.

About Sarah Ward

I’m Sarah Ward, a maritime archaeologist, commercial diver and factual presenter with 16 years experience, both in and out of the water. I’ve investigated sites ranging from the Bronze Age to the modern, across more than 20 countries. A Visiting Professor at Dalian Maritime University and MIT Ocean Discovery Fellow, I am on a mission to bring archaeology to a broader audience, helping people to connect with the past in a meaningful way.

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