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Boats of Contemporary Displacement

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The central Mediterranean today marks one of the most active and dangerous routes for sea crossings to Europe, due in no small part to border regimes designed to prevent the mobilities that have defined these waters from earliest antiquity. Since 2013, work in conjunction with Brock University (Canada) and other partners has focused on documentation of the ephemeral material culture of these vessels, often wooden fishing craft structurally and spatially adapted to facilitate a different traffic and reflected in items left behind when the boats were intercepted. An approach of photography, 3D scanning, and detailed archaeological recording helps to embed these journeys within longer-term connections and situate them alongside more traditional notions of heritage, while ongoing work aims to help center the voices of those undertaking journeys. In a region that celebrates its deep connections to the sea, care for the materiality of these mobilities foregrounds human experiences, while serving goals of advocacy, empowerment, and social justice amid global change. Back home, this work has informed a series of workshops and an emerging online exhibit, Materiality of Migration, with the Penn Cultural Heritage Center.