The Ethics of Historical Archaeology
Virtually all historical archaeologists are fascinated by seemingly prosaic things like ceramics, bones, and buttons…
The SHA Ethics Committee has been reconstituted! After a long hiatus during which the Society worked with the RPA in formulating and maintaining a common Code of Ethics, the current Board has responded to members’ requests to reconstitute its own Ethics Committee and to have its mission at the center of the Society’s activities. The Chair will be President-Elect Charles Ewen, and the committee is being formed from members representative of the field’s core concerns.
The SHA Ethics Committee is expected to take a couple of new directions.
First, the connections between the SHA and its sister organizations such as SAA and ACRA have resulted in dual or multiple memberships being common among our historical archaeologist colleagues. As such we might expect that awareness of the various ethical codes within the discipline to be the norm. Yet at present the codes vary within the discipline according to the perceived mission of the organization. Our own code urgently needs revision and re-alignment with current thinking. As we move forward on this front, we will be talking to other Ethics Committees and sharing perspectives. The possibility that an archaeologist will need to demonstrate knowledge of and allegiance to several codes at any one time is increasingly of concern, and to the extent that we share common ground, this needs to be reflected in our common orientation.
Second, some areas of practice within historical archaeology are currently the focus of attention, both negative and positive – these include the need for better outreach and education, conscientious practice in fieldwork, archaeological practice at the margins of professionalism, and issues of collections management and stewardship. The Ethics committee will be addressing these issues proactively, not just through position statements: each member of the new committee is tasked with developing one of these “Core Issues” and proposing pragmatic exercises and tools for the membership to adopt. SHA leadership is particularly keen to see the Ethics Committee take a lead role across the discipline in creating an environment, not of “best practice” but of “informed practice”, by providing methods and tools for promoting a community of informed individuals. The committee wants to move beyond description and prescription, to working more closely with the real issues in our profession.
The first meeting of the Ethics Committee is scheduled during the conference in January – we’ll be reporting back to you and introducing ourselves more formally at that stage!