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March 12, 2004

History Major Uncovers a Sunken Past
Long Island native Studies Sunken Ships and Efforts to Raise Them

Trevor Adler, a Johns Hopkins University senior from Sands Point, N.Y., has conducted original research on the history and motivations behind efforts to raise sunken ships. As part of the Johns Hopkins Provost's Undergraduate Research Award program, Adler spent months last year delving into his topic.

"From maritime historians to oceanographers, from sailors to sea-loving landlubbers, and from adults to children," Adler wrote in his project proposal, "the subject of sunken ships, their discovery and their raising are subjects that excite many a reader." This topic especially interested Adler, who grew up near the sea.

Trevor Adler, here on the Constellation, combined his history and maritime interests to research the raising of ships.

In a course on the Civil War taught by history professor Michael Johnson, Adler became interested in the several U.S. and Confederate ships that were sunk and then raised, and he became intrigued not only by the methods used but also by the motivations behind raising them.

So last summer, Adler spent six weeks at the Munson Institute of Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Conn., home to the largest maritime library in the United States, with some 65,000 volumes and more than 700,000 manuscripts. It was here that Adler found detailed correspondence on the efforts to raise three ships, two English and one Swedish. What Adler learned is that the motivations to raise the ships didn't necessarily stem from financial considerations.

In its 11-year existence, the Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards program has given 483 students grants approaching $1 million to follow their curiosity, thanks to funding primarily from the Hodson Trust. This year's winning students presented their findings in a ceremony on Thursday, March 11 on the Hopkins campus.

With Hodson support, the university is able to offer its undergraduates two opportunities each year to apply for stipends to conduct independent research during the summer or fall. It's a commitment that the university feels is central to its mission, said Steven Knapp, university provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

"Since its beginnings, Johns Hopkins has always emphasized the value of learning through discovery, and this program is an important opportunity for undergraduates to work in this tradition with our best and most creative faculty at the forefront of their fields," Knapp said.

During his research, Adler discovered that the Mary Rose, an English warship named for King Henry VIII's sister, was the king's favorite war vessel. It sank during an engagement with the French in 1545, but not because it was damaged in the battle. Essentially, the ship was turned too quickly and heeled over, taking on water and sinking, all within sight of land and the Portsmouth Harbor, where King Henry himself watched.

"It was a ship that really meant something to the king," said Adler. And that was the main reason crews tried to raise it, which they did by attaching ropes to the sunken ship from two other ships at low tide, in hopes of floating it free. It didn't work. In fact, of the three ships that Adler studied, none was ever successfully raised. "It was almost pathetic to try to raise ships of this size, loaded with cannon, with pulleys and the tides," Adler said. "But they tried."

Johnson, whose class had piqued Adler's interest in the subject of raising ships, said about his work, "He's extremely thoughtful. He's creative and imaginative, and he's extremely disciplined. I think his research skills are superb."

Adler, whose project sponsor was Johns Hopkins historian John Russell-Wood, hopes to attend law school and study maritime law.

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