Grace's Experience as a Team Member of the Norman Sicily Project

When I heard about the opportunity to be part of The Norman Sicily Project, I was immediately interested in learning more. After reading the job description, I was even more eager to apply and I was beyond thrilled when I was offered a position on the team. Being a history major, with a particular interest in medieval Italian history, I was captivated by the pictures of the ornate details of the monasteries and churches. Prior to beginning my work on the project, I had some knowledge of what historical research entails. However, participating in this project has taught me more than I had ever expected. Not only have I been able to utilize and improve my research skills, I have also learned what it means to be part of a scholarly research team. Along with three other undergrads at Montclair State University, I have been contributing to the project. Initially, my first tasks were to catalogue images of the extraordinary Norman medieval monasteries found across Sicily, which included identifying the contents of each photograph, date visited, and more. Before beginning, the other students and I underwent a weekend of training so that we understood the complexities of working with and cataloging the historical data that we were about to encounter. The highlight of this stage in the project, for me, was to view photographs of the variety of monasteries found throughout different regions of Sicily and the ability to see the magnitude and cultural richness of the sites and their remains.

My interest in Sicily and Sicilian history dates back to my high school years when I took an Advanced Placement European History class. I found it fascinating that so many different civilizations had left their cultural marks on the island and on southern Italy in general. From the Greeks to the Arabs and, of course, the Normans, the cultural diversity is apparent in the architecture of the island with religious buildings that have Greek elements while having Arab influences as well. Being a history buff, Italy was on the top of my travel bucket list ever since I was a young child and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel there in summer of 2014. Now, after having been fortunate enough to be a member of The Norman Sicily Project, I am inspired to return to Italy and travel around Sicily.

Personally, the thing that I have taken away the most from being part of this project is the importance of preserving historical sites. Nowadays, history and other humanities are often brushed aside as not being as important as math and the sciences. However, I very much disagree with this sentiment. I argue that history is one of the most important, if not the most important, humanities disciplines because by studying it we can learn so much from the past. We can also gain insights into how to approach current issues in the present and what may arise in the future. Historical monuments like the monasteries, churches, fortresses, etc., of Sicily are paramount to learning and understanding about the medieval period in Europe. By uncovering the past, we can be better prepared for the future and teach future generations about what has molded the present.