Massachusetts Archaeology Month (MAM) is a popular public program in New England. Recently I have heard of an alarming trend – the suspension, downsizing, or proposed cancellations of similar Archaeology Month celebrations in other states. I am interested in what aspects of our program have kept it appealing to Massachusetts residents for more than 20 years, and ways that we can engage other states to participate in their own way.
Massachusetts Archaeology Month began in 1992 as Archaeology Week. Hosted by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, this initial celebration had 47 public archaeology events across the state. Calendars of events as well as posters were mailed to institutions, educators, and individuals throughout New England. Initially hosted in June, Archaeology Week was moved to October in 1995. Due to an overwhelming amount of participation in the first few years, we expanded the program in 2004 to be a full month of events, solidifying the pattern of monthly celebrations that we continue today. This first extended Massachusetts Archaeology Month saw over 100 events. Subsequent years have maintained this high-level of participation with an average of 90-100 events in 40-50 cities and towns across Massachusetts.
Despite having hosted over a thousand Archaeology Month events, the quality of programs that are offered continues to remain high. Events are hosted by local partners, not individually coordinated by the Massachusetts SHPO. Partners who host events include universities, museums (from small, house museums to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts), local historical societies, government agencies (at local, state, and federal levels), CRM firms, libraries, archaeological groups, and more. Each of these partners submits their event information to be listed in the state-wide calendar of events. Events appeal to a wide audience, including those from different age groups, educational backgrounds, previous knowledge of archaeology, learning styles, geographical locations, and interests. These special, targeted events have included walking tours of archaeological landscapes, site visits, lab tours, museum trips, lectures, hands-on learning for children, archaeological fairs, bike tours, canoe tours, demonstrations, discussions, and so much more!
We solicit for events early — often before the ground has even thawed in the spring. We have found that keeping an updated mailing list of potential event holders and asking them early in the planning stages helps people dream up, plan, and develop high quality, well thought events in time for October. That said, we are definitely on the early side, and many people still prefer to be listed in our website only, having missed the deadline for the printed calendar.
So after all of these years, how do we maintain the large number of events scheduled for Massachusetts Archaeology Month? Why do venues want to list their events with us? What are we offering in return? A combination of benefits encourages groups to host events. The most obvious benefit for an event holder is the advertising that we offer for their event (and subsequently for their organization). Each year we send out thousands of calendar of event booklets, posters, and postcards. We produce a press release to media outlets large and small across the region. The opportunity to list an event as part of the larger MAM celebration often nudges organizations to host events that they might not have otherwise scheduled, so they can participate in this larger program. Often the association with their event and Massachusetts Archaeology Month allows them to gain support from other local partners. We receive participation from several local CRM companies because the timing (post-field season) makes it easy to schedule public presentations (sometimes required through mitigation). Finally we offer limited “matching” services to help coordinate venues looking for speakers and vice versa.
Looking ahead, there are always ways to improve. The world is moving toward a more web-based future and so should we. It is infinitely easier to update the calendar of events (to be more accurate and more inclusive) if we start to emphasize the website and start to phase-out printed calendars. A notable exception here is that printed calendars work very well as references for institutional use (libraries, schools, museums).
Social media (such as Facebook or Twitter) is another useful tool for the future. These forums make it easier for people to coordinate events with friends and colleagues, to share information about their plans, to post up to the minute event information, and to share photos from events.
I hope that the success and enthusiasm for Massachusetts Archaeology Month has sparked interest and hope in states that are losing their Archaeology Month program, or perhaps that have never had one. Other states might choose the coordinating institution to be something other than the SHPO. A historical society, state archaeological society, or university might spearhead the effort instead. Additionally, moving archaeology month to a web-based calendar with social media advertising (still coupled with traditional press releases) is a cost effective option for states or groups hoping to re-invigorate their programs with little to no funding.
The effort to organize such a state-wide celebration will be rewarded. State Archaeology Month programs can be sustainable through local participation, engaging and educational for the public, cost effective, and a great asset.
Do you have an Archaeology Month program in your state? Have you recently eliminated it from your arsenal of educational tools? What does Archaeology Month mean to you?