John Seidel to lead Historic St. Mary’s City

ST. MARY’S — John L. Seidel, who developed an archaeology program at Washington College and served as director of its Center for Environment & Society, has been appointed executive director of Historic St. Mary’s City.

His first day is Jan. 3.

Historic St. Mary’s City is a museum of living history and archaeology in the tidewater region of southern Maryland.

The Historic St. Mary’s City Commission announced Seidel’s appointment in a Dec. 18 post on its website, touting his experience in archaeology, nonprofits and higher education.

Seidel follows Travis Parno, who had been the acting executive director since Regina Faden stepped down in March 2023.

Parno will resume his position as director of research and collections.

John Seidel earned a Bachelor of Arts from Drew University, where he double-majored in political science and anthropology.

He earned master’s degrees in anthropology and American civilization and a Ph.D. in American historical archeology from the University of Pennsylvania, conducting excavations in the Middle East and Latin America.

Before coming to Washington College, Seidel taught at Rutgers and at the University of Maryland College Park, where he served as co-director of the Archaeology in Annapolis Program, developed a Geographic Information System laboratory for the department of anthropology, and guided the pioneering use of GIS research to manage historic preservation in the Annapolis Historic District.

Prior to his arrival in Chestertown, he ran the marine archaeology division for a major consulting firm, finding and exploring shipwrecks up and down the East Coast.

He arrived at Washington College in 1998 with the charge of developing an archaeology program.

His wife, archaeologist Liz Seidel, joined Washington College the following year, and together they developed the program, an archaeology lab, an extensive internship program and offered annual summer field schools in archaeology.

John Seidel worked with professor Jeanette Sherbondy to establish anthropology as a major, and he collaborated with former CES Director Wayne Bell to bring a Geographic Information System program to Washington College.

In 2007, after a year as interim director and following a national search, Seidel was named director of the CES.

Under Seidel’s leadership, the CES saw an explosive growth in annual gifts, grants and contracts; the development of extensive public programming that ranged from environmental science and habitat restoration to archaeology; K-12 STEM initiatives and extensive teacher training programs; growth of the center in staffing and volunteers; and the establishment of three labs, the Public Archaeology Laboratory, the Watershed Innovation Lab and a GIS Lab.

He also regularly taught courses in environmental studies, environmental and marine archaeology, and historic preservation

Seidel served as director of the CES, alongside joint appointments in anthropology and environmental science and studies, up until his retirement in 2022.

Upon retirement, he became a Senior Fellow at the CES.

“We are excited about Dr. Seidel’s deciding to join Historic Saint Mary’s City as Executive Director. His experience, energy, and fresh perspective will be a tremendous addition to the City,” Tim Heely, commission chair, said in a written statement.

In the website post, Seidel said, “From the professional staff to volunteers and the Commissioners, the team at St. Mary’s is truly impressive. My wife Liz and I are delighted to be joining this great community.”

He added: “After 25 years at Washington College, I took some time to survey the landscape and figure out my next chapter. This opening at St. Mary’s City couldn’t have been more timely for me, and I’m thrilled to have been selected. I’m especially energized by the remarkable opportunities in front of us as we approach the 400th anniversary of the founding of the City.”

The land that Historic St. Mary’s City encompasses is the site of the fourth permanent settlement in British North America, was Maryland’s first settlement in 1634, and for 61 years (until 1695) its Colonial capital.

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