"Why are you doing a biography on an archaeologist?" Some people have been curious about the origin of my interest in writing about Dr. George Bass, widely known as the father of underwater archaeology.
It was hardly a random choice. Recently I came across a decades-old January to-do list of freelance articles I planned to pursue that year. An article on shipwrecks and Dr. George Bass was first.
I first encountered George in the late 1980s. I was working on an article for Oceans on the shipwreck surveys of the Cape Cod-based Historical Maritime Group of New England (HMGNE). For a sidebar piece on institutions whose work related to shipwrecks, I called George Bass at Texas A&M. Acclaimed for his excavations in Turkey, he was surprisingly open, friendly, and generous with his time. The Oceans research not only hooked me, it became a passion. I continued gathering information about shipwrecks and underwater and maritime studies, and attended a course at MIT on maritime history given by Warren Riess who had worked with George.
In 1997 I was in an MA program at the University of Massachusetts. When discussing potential thesis topics with a friend, I was genuinely surprised to hear myself say: "The only subject I'd really like to write about is shipwrecks." But once the words were out of my mouth, the decision was made. My 1998 paper, "Issues in Shipwreck Preservation and Management," included significant sections on two leaders in underwater exploration: Drs. George Bass and Bob Ballard.
This week I was looking through my papers for a piece of information, and happened to glance over the thesis introduction I had written some 20 years ago. It concluded with this thought: "Writing this thesis has been an effort to embrace a topic that powerfully compels me...to learn what I want to say about it as a writer. For now, that task is completed."
"For now?" The words implied more to come. But never for a second did I anticipate that "to come" would be the authorized biography of a pioneering scientist and the birth of nautical archaeology.
George Bass and other world-class nautical archaeologists I've interviewed in the past two years credit Fate with influencing their life's path. When I consider my great good fortune in this work, it is hard to rule that out.