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It’s hard to believe that a load of guano could lead to a trip to Hawaii, but it worked for Pete Lesher ’90. The history graduate wrote a paper for a conference on Pacific Rim maritime history, which might have seemed like a stretch for the curator of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

“I looked for a connection between the Pacific and what I knew on the Chesapeake and found it in the guano trade,” he explains. His paper was accepted “and that was my ticket to Honolulu.”

Lesher also developed the paper into an article, “A Load of Guano: Baltimore and the Growth of the Fertilizer Trade,” which was published in the refereed journal Maryland Historical Magazine. The article won the Marion V. Brewington Prize from the Maryland Historical Society.

As curator at the growing museum, where he worked during his summers as a college student, Lesher is busy building its collection, ranging from boats to sailmakers’ needles, historic photographs, and documents. An article Lesher wrote for the museum’s magazine during the January break of his sophomore year hooked him into the milieu, and he is happy to write regularly for the museum’s quarterly.

“Mostly, I write about aspects of the history of wooden shipbuilding and boatbuilding on the Chesapeake, which I consider my specialty,” he says. With museum expansion and professional opportunities abounding, “there is always a new challenge here.”

Lesher, who has family from the eastern shore of Maryland, feels rooted to the region, and he remains an active sailor, “crewing, among other places, on an odd local traditional boat called a ‘Chesapeake sailing log canoe,’ about a dozen of which race on local waters with huge sails and frequent capsizes.” The canoe he sails on, the Island Bird, was built in 1882.

His years at Lafayette prepared him well for his job, says Lesher.

“I was a little discouraged my freshman year, but [MacCracken Professor of History] Dr. Don Miller’s course on The American City turned things around for me,” he says. “I gained confidence when he put an emphasis on writing. [Former head of history] Dr. [Jacob] Cooke’s course on early American history is also a strong memory.”

Pursuing a senior honors thesis with Robert I. Weiner, Jones Professor of History, Lesher melded his music minor and his major with Bill Melin, professor emeritus of music, as an outside reader.

“I have to say that I enjoyed experiences across different disciplines, from Ralph Slaught’s courses on logic to Nancy McCreary’s Limnology class and Eric Ziolkowski’s Theories of Religion. These professors challenged me to think in ways that I hadn’t done previously,” he says.

A member of musical and singing groups during his Lafayette career, Lesher sings professionally with the Concert Artists of Baltimore chamber orchestra and makes volunteer appearances with Baltimore Symphony Chorus.

Categorized in: Alumni Profiles