Arlene Spencer is a Staff Writer for Global Maritime History founded in 2013 by Oxford University Bodleian Library Manager, naval historian, and art historian, Dr Justin Reay; and Dr Samuel McLean, King’s College of London graduate from the Department of War Studies, and Canadian Nautical Research Society Councillor.
Arlene is also a regular contributor to the Grand Coulee, Washington State based history writers publication, Them Dam Writers. Them Dam Writers began in 1985 specifically to encourage the research and sharing of the local history of the Grand Coulee region.
These two publications publish and market her research to the readers interested in the historical periods and geographic regions in which her research subjects lived and died.
She has worked full time researching three subjects since 2010. Since 2010, from her home office in Seattle, Arlene has researched Richard Williams alias Cornish. Master of a merchant vessel, Cornish was hanged in Jamestown. She is writing an historical non-fiction book about Cornish. She has completed research for her two other historical non-fiction books: one about James Dillman and the other about Catherine Northrup. James Dillman, a sheepman, blacksmith, and trapper, was an Oregon pioneer and a survivor of the violent Range Wars. Catherine Northrup survived a particularly lethal sortie against newly settled homesteaders during the Nez Perce War but ten years later was murdered.
In 2010 she began researching Catherine Northrup in State and local Archives, local museums, in primary and secondary sources, and federal records. After piecing together Catherine’s life, Arlene began researching James Dillman. Nearly done, while waiting for court records from a local jurisdiction, she happened upon Richard Williams alias Cornish in the Jamestown historical record, and became intrigued. She investigated what had since been learned about him and discovered that very little had. Now, after completing research on Catherine and James, and having nearly completed her work investigating Richard, from what Arlene has uncovered it is evident that all three of these people are significant in their singular experiences. That they endure because of these experiences makes sharing what has been learned about them that much more important.
She says of those she researches, “The person who historically faced injustice but was neither wealthy nor powerful is so rarely researched. From their rediscovered historical record we gain insight into antiquity but, too, but we recognize others who struggle in ways we still find ourselves struggling, even hundreds of years later. Though rarely told these are our stories – the stories of individuals in history who experienced more than life challenges. They fought to survive. Even though none of them are well known, by virtue of what happened to each of them, their experiences forged crucial moments in history, even if their histories were forgotten, until now. They left us with more than they may have had. Perhaps we live where they did, we may know their descendants, we may earn our living as they did, or we may personally struggle with the same dire realities they were placed into. We are them”.
In 1992 Arlene earned her Bachelor of Science in Anthropology at Central Washington University (CWU) in Ellensburg, Washington. After, as an archaeological crew member, she surveyed two pre-contact Native American sites and two historical sites in Washington State. In 1998 she returned to CWU and completed two years of study in the Resource Management Masters of Science program, where she focused on the Cultural Resource Management (Archaeology) track.
Arlene attended Central Washington Archaeological Survey (CWAS) Field School during summer, 1991. As a CWAS student she surveyed, mapped, recorded, and excavated a pre-contact hunting and kill processing site in the Yakima River Canyon. Two descendants of those hunters, Yakama Nation Elders Bill Yallup and Johnson Meninick, were invited to the CWAS class to present their point of view on archaeological field work on their traditional and ceded lands. Explaining the importance of the interactions between humans nature, and the Yakama’s knowledge of the site’s usage through time, the Elders conveyed the difference between others excavating ceded Yakama land and their tribal members excavating and interpreting their own historical past. For Arlene it was among the most lasting lessons of the field season. Through their candor, the points they made remained with her; so much so that, after grad school, she chose to work in history rather than archaeology, in part because of what Yallup and Meninick said.