Caroline Newberg was not satisfied when she presented her findings about the impact of rising sea levels on the Newtown neighborhood of Sarasota to her Survey of Archaeology classmates.

Surveying Newtown

By Liz Lebron

From left, New College President Don O’Shea, Professor Uzi Baram, and students Connar Williams, Tristin Knight, Caroline Newberg took a trolley tour of Newtown as part of an independent study project.
From left, New College President Don O’Shea, Professor Uzi Baram, and students Connar Williams, Tristin Knight and Caroline Newberg took a trolley tour of Newtown as part of an independent study project.

Caroline Newberg was not satisfied when she presented her findings about the impact of rising sea levels on the Newtown neighborhood of Sarasota to her Survey of Archaeology classmates. She and another classmate studied the historic African-American neighborhood, the first in Sarasota, in addition to the course requirements, and Newberg wanted more.

“I felt that a side project during an otherwise very busy semester wasn’t enough to accomplish all I wanted to accomplish with the project,” said Newberg, “so I went to Uzi with the idea to continue the work as an ISP.”

Uzi Baram is a professor of Anthropology and Heritage Studies at New College, and he agreed to sponsor Newberg’s independent study project. Baram, who is also the director of the New College Public Archaeology Lab, co-hosted the Tidally United Summit with the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) in August 2018. He explored how heritage sites like Newtown can inform climate change research.

“To bring attention to the issues for minority communities,” said Baram, “I shared the Sainer stage with Vickie Oldham and we discussed the issues for Newtown. I presented my findings on the geography of Newtown and concerns over flooding from rising sea levels and a rising aquifer.”

Baram continued the conversation about Newtown with his Survey of Archaeology class, which sparked Newberg’s interest in the neighborhood and its residents. When Newberg expressed interest in ongoing research in Newtown, Baram connected her with his co-presenter. Oldham is a community scholar who works to promote the historical neighborhood through the Newtown Alive project.

Newberg had already identified the level to which water will rise in Newtown as sea levels get higher. She and Baram turned their focus to mapping out swimming holes, the implications of rising sea levels for Whitaker Bayou, and finding a productive way to share their concerns with Newtown residents.

“[Calculating the water level] is easy enough,” said Newberg. “Many other teams have compiled this information already in easy-to-access ways. The tricky part, and the focus of the ISP, is finding a way to organize and compile that information in an accessible way for the Newtown community to educate themselves.”

Getting to know Newtown and the people whose lives rising sea levels impacts was critical to her efforts. Baram and Oldham arranged for a trolley tour of Newtown for Newberg and a group of students, faculty and staff from New College. During the tour, Oldham introduced the group to current Newtown residents who shared their experience growing up in the former sundown town, when African-Americans had to return to the segregated neighborhood by dusk.

“The trolley tour was helpful for me in that I left with a better spatial perception of Newtown, and where things are relative to other places,” shared Newberg. “It also helped me and the other members of the ISP learn about the history of Newtown, as well as the places of significance to the people of Newtown.”

One of the landmarks visitors will see on the tour is the Wright Bush House. Bush was an African-American entrepreneur and landowner who moved to Sarasota in the 1920s. A group of New College students received a grant to paint the historic home in the spring of 2018.

“Something particularly striking that I learned on the tour was the long standing relationship between New College and Newtown,” remarked Newberg, who remembers Baram discussing the Wright Bush House restoration project in class. “I had no idea that New College had been an ally with Newtown since the College’s beginning, and that this project was just continuing the legacy of New College’s advocacy for Newtown.”

Newberg will present her work at the Whitaker Bayou Healthy Communities and Waterways event on Saturday, Jan. 26 at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park.

— Liz Lebron is associate director of communications and marketing at New College of Florida.