Learning Public Archaeology: Experiences and Challenges from a University-Based, Long-Term Initiative
The Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project has been a public archaeology/community service learning program from…
On Saturday, October 20, 2012 archaeology enthusiasts will have a chance to participate in a nationwide suite of events during the second annual National Archaeology Day. Not to be confused with the digital media-flavored bonanza that was Day of Archaeology, National Archaeology Day seeks to connect locals directly to professionals, organizations, and museums through vibrant personal experiences. This wonderful celebration of all things archaeology is a fantastic opportunity to highlight local resources, reaffirm an institutional commitment to public outreach, or delve into public programming for the very first time.
The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), instigator of National Archaeology Day, has identified three overarching goals including: raising awareness of archaeology as a discipline and a resource; emphasizing the universality of archaeological resources, including those right in our “backyards;” and uniting the archaeological community through a focal event (Thomas and Langlitz 2012). At the time of this writing, almost 100 collaborating organizations (up from the 2011 inaugural year’s 14) will be promoting the day’s activities from across the United States and Canada, and in places as far away as Australia, Cyprus, Romania, Germany, and Ireland (Archaeological Institute of America 2012). Here in the States, AIA has been joined by the Society for Historical Archaeology, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Society for American Archaeology, the U.S. National Park System, and many more organizations in nearly every state to raise awareness and provide avenues through which the public can get their hands dirty in the archaeology beneath their feet. Last year’s activities included classroom visits, symposia, conferences, archaeology fairs, student presentations, lab open houses, and lectures (Archaeological Institute of America 2012).
As an Outreach Coordinator for the Florida Public Archaeology Network, I attempted to step out of my zealous outreach shoes to weigh the benefits of such a day for those who are less publicly inclined. Relating the intricacies of the archaeological process to the general populace is not always easy or even instantly gratifying. However, no one can deny that in this current economic and pedagogic climate it behooves us to try.
Now, more than ever, the archaeological community needs to inspire. Such a lofty goal may not be as hard as you think. A perusal of the more than 400 events listed on the AIA’s National Archaeology Day events calendar include such things as a display of Pennsylvania State Museum and Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology’s dugout canoe in Hamburg, Pennsylvania and a tour of the Dragonfly Petroglyph Site sponsored by the Grant County Archaeological Society and Gila National Forest. The AIA in Kansas City will be offering a talk entitled “Spying on the Past: Satellite Imagery and Archaeology in Southern Mesopotamia.” The Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site’s Archaeology Day includes collections tours, lectures, kid’s activities, special exhibits and more. We at the southwest region of Florida Public Archaeology Network plan to offer a Project Archaeology teachers’ workshop, so that educators can bring structured archaeology curriculum into their classrooms. A whole range of activities and events fall well within the scope of National Archaeology Day’s premise and are sure to appeal to a wide array of tastes and interests.
What inspired you to dive into archaeology? Was it a museum visit? Was it a trip to a lab or an archaeological site? Did you hear one awesome lecture that stimulated your thirst for more? We, as professionals “in the know,” are in the position to create great change. Passion comes from knowledge and knowledge comes from sharing. By inspiring and educating, we can reshape (albeit, sometimes on a painfully slow pace) public opinion and, most importantly, public support of our beleaguered cultural and archaeological resources. All it takes is to go back to that one “aha!” moment that led you to where you find yourself today.
I feel another important emphasis is National Archaeology Day’s tenant to unite the archaeological community under a focal event. We may sometimes feel as though our institutions are lone archaeo-bubbles awash in a cultural vacuum. I see Archaeology Day as a perfect opportunity to reach out to the institutions around you. Why not join up with the county museum, the historical house museum, or the battlefield site near you to put on an archaeology activity or a lecture series? Bigger events that draw more visitors are more feasible when multiple parties come together under one overarching flag.
Excited? Interested in joining the fun? There is still time for you or your institution to sign on. Fortunately for us all, the AIA National Archaeology Day website has everything tied together neatly. Submit your group’s name to become a Collaborating Organization or donate to the cause by becoming a Sponsor.
Too late for you to plan and promote an activity for 2012? Check out the Calendar of Events and blog for opportunities near you to help you plan for next year! National Archaeology Day is also on Facebook and Twitter. Make sure to use the hashtag #NatlArkyDay while tweeting from one of the amazing National Archaeology Day events!
It is heartening to see how well received National Archaeology Day has been. I find it to be a positive sign of things to come, despite our current institutional concerns. Will you be participating in National Archaeology Day? How will you be participating? Can you translate your archaeological “aha!” moment for a new audience? Do you think that events like National Archaeology Day have the power to inspire a long-term shift in support for archaeological and cultural resources and institutions?
If you are participating, please share with us in the comments below, on our Facebook Page, or send us a message on Twitter. We’d love to hear about it, and to let other people know about how historical archaeology will be represented!