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Shipwrecks and National Monuments and Corpus Linguistics
Andrew Hyman

This is a brief comment about a recent blog post: A Response to David Weisberg on Corpus Linguistics by James Cleith Phillips.  The question is whether the Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes monuments to be established if they are situated upon  the sea floor.  It says:

Sec 2. That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.

Using Advanced Google Books to do a search, I find this phrase about oyster farming, in the Maryland Code published 1906: “parcels of land beneath the waters.”  This seems like evidence that the word “lands” in the Antiquities Act is broad enough to cover the sea floor.  Not conclusive evidence, but good evidence.   It’s not what first springs to mind when one hears the phrase “parcels of land,” but it doesn’t seem like a misuse of that phrase either.  Actually, under the circumstances of oyster farming, it seems like the best possible phrasing.  Does corpus linguistics really require an opposite conclusion?  Maybe it all depends upon how corpus linguistics is used (or misused).  If a World War II shipwreck is lying on a piece of the ocean floor owned by the U.S. Government, then I’d be inclined to say that it can be turned into a national monument.  Why not?  Also, Happy New Year from all of us regular bloggers at the Originalism Blog!

MICHAEL RAMSEY ADDS:  I agree, especially with the last sentence!