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Students Connect The Past and The Present at St. Michael's Cemetery

October 15, 2018 | By Dayzha Holland |

In partnership with St. Michael's Cemetery, UWF archaeology students conduct headstone restoration.

“Through the research being conducted at the St. Michael’s Cemetery, our students are gaining experience in research methods and conservation skills that will help them in their professional lives, while representing UWF in a very positive manner.” Margo Stringfield is a research associate with the UWF Archaeology Institute.

Students, faculty and staff from UWF’s Departments of Anthropology and History stepped back in time at the Historic St. Michael’s Cemetery Celebration and Crinum Lily Sale, September 22.

This event took place, not only to raise money for the preservation of the cemetery, but to teach people the history of one of Pensacola’s oldest historic landmarks. The acquisition of the land dates back to 1807, when the king of Spain declared the 8 acres of land an official cemetery. Today, the St. Michael's Cemetery, located in the heart of urban, historic Pensacola, stands strong and provides a look into the past for everyone who enters. The space offers an opportunity to support student research and facilitate hands-on learning experiences with conservation methods.

UWF and the Archaeology Institute have been involved with St. Michael’s preservation efforts for the past 19 years, dating back to the late 1990s. Each year, UWF archaeology and history students, faculty and staff have collaborated for the preservation efforts.

This year, Robin Dunn, public history master’s student at the University of West Florida, took part in the event. Dunn’s role was to conduct research on a person that was buried in the St. Michael's Cemetery, Leocardio Bonifay (1811-1896). Dunn said it was very rewarding to be able to continue someone's story long after they have passed and then present that story to the public.

“I have gained great knowledge from this event… I have been able to see the pride that people have here for their history. Celebrating the people that once lived in this town is a great event and I am happy that I was able to be a part of it,” said Robin Dunn, public history master's student.


Stringfield and Dr. Jamin Wells, assistant professor and director of the public history master’s program, have taken the lead in producing this event for the past few years. Wells and Stringfield were supported by staff, faculty and students, who contributed to the research process.

Wells said he has continued to be a part of this event each year because he believes the St. Michael’s Cemetery has been a place for students to learn from various disciplines including history, archeology and environmental science. He said that each year, the event has provided a great opportunity to bring people from the community together and connect with different organizations.

Wells said the students have inspired him, by their willingness to extend their efforts further than the class project, months after, even with no grade incentive.

“This is past class time, the students went above and beyond sharing their stories and engaging with the community. To have four to five students come out months after the class is over speaks to the power of the class and their passion to do what they want to do. It is nice to be able to give them the opportunities to do that” said Wells.

Wells said this year's goal was to share the great work that the students, faculty and staff are doing in conjunction with the cemetery while engaging with the community. This year, Wells said the event was very successful in doing so. Wells wants his student to see how their work can come to life. This year students were able to see the importance of their work after meeting distant relatives of the people they were researching.

“History is not always something associated with passion. So, to see the students’ excitement and to see them work with other people who are equally excited is really wonderful. It's the best takeaway for me. We will continue to be a part of this event in one way or another year after year” said Dr. Wells.

UWF Department of History | UWF Division of Anthropology and Archaeology