Accessibility statement

Makenzie Sorensen

Research project

Title: “Vessels of the Past”: Intangible Maritime Archaeology in preserving Oceanic cultural memory through performance

Maritime seascapes are composed of more than just the tangible remnants such as ships/cargo, physical ports, and the recorded islandscapes. Maritime Archaeology historically has focused on the tangible heritage found at archaeology sites and as such has contributed to important discoveries since the 1970s. While such discoveries offer invaluable insight into the past, it is also equally important to expand interdisciplinary research to preserve the intangible nature of such seascapes. In the early 2000s, UNESCO and other heritage institutions began to recognise the intangible heritage of cultural communities, particularly when considering world heritage designation sites and “cultural landscapes” but this has rarely been applied to “cultural maritime seascapes.” Twenty years later, archaeology and the heritage sector are still struggling with including intergenerational shared knowledge and cultural memory into the larger archaeological record.

With the absence of tangible artefacts due to factors like colonisation and climate change, it is critical for the archaeology field to shift its perception into intangible artefacts that can be observed and preserved.This research project aims to investigate the issues in representation of Oceanic performances in maritime archaeology and also the mode/medium in which archaeology of Oceanic performances are studied. The key points of investigation will be in the lifecycle of performance objects, the performances as artefacts, the use of performances in response to climate change and migration, and to identify the types of cultural memory stored in such performances. This should be led by the discourse and the will of the community as to what is relevant and important to their cultural memory and experience. I believe the solution can be found in a community archaeology, indigenous-led project that incorporates the shared maritime heritage and intangible aspects of maritime seascapes using new archaeological data collection methods. It is my hope that this research project remains accessible to the Oceanic community in all forms, including producing a version of this research into a performance. Finally ,this research will further public interest into new ways of engagement with maritime heritage and the cultural memory  that are embedded into a “maritime aesthetic.” 


As a budding archaeologist, I focused on maritime archaeology and ethno-archaeology of South East Asia during my bachelors at Loyola University Chicago. My field research projects included independent studies in the archaeology of Shadow Puppet theatre and Temple performances. I worked as a museum intern for a private collection donated to the University. Additionally, I volunteered working with refugee organisations around Chicago, particularly in recording and creating space for any material culture that had survived their journeys. The memories made from these community spaces will remain a core part of my research interests to this day. 

Shortly after graduating college, I worked on a passion project for a battleship museum in which my father also served on. Following this, I moved to Australia for a few years where I volunteered and worked for various research projects in community archaeology and sustainable impact policy development. From here, I developed an interest in the cultural resource laws surrounding the heritage field. Thus, I completed a MSc in Legal Studies from Purdue University where I focused on the effective impact of the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987 in the U.S. Particularly, I found that it was outdated, and created “murky waters” so to speak between all stakeholders: community, archaeologists,salvage crews, and the government. I now advocate for community involvement in maritime heritage when creating and implementing maritime policies.  

My U.K. journey began in 2020 with the MSc Archaeology program at University of Southampton, where I focused on maritime archaeology and the intangible maritime heritage of Oceania. I studied objects in the British Museum’s Oceanic online collection and investigated their performance in storing memory. I concluded that without active engagement with performances, these performance objects were unfortunately losing memory and heritage and their performative nature. Finally, this has led me to look into this topic further with the PhD program at York in the field where I hope to investigate the role of memory, performances, soundscapes, and aesthetics in preserving intangible maritime seascapes.

Makenzie Sorensen profile photo

Contact details

Makenzie Sorensen
Department of Archaeology
University of York
Kings Manor