Historical Archaeology at George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Greetings from Virginia! Though the #SHA2016 Annual Meeting is some months away, we are assisting…
by Laura Heath-Stout
Boston University Department of Archaeology
This year, I attended the SHA Annual Meeting for the first time. I came to Fort Worth because of my research; not to present it, but to conduct it! My dissertation focuses on diversity issues in archaeology, and the ways they affect the knowledge we produce about the human past. At the SHA conference, I observed and participated in a variety of events devoted to making our discipline more diverse, inclusive, and welcoming.
The Gender and Minority Affairs Committee (GMAC)
One of the first events I visited was the Gender and Minority Affairs Committee meeting. GMAC works on a variety of issues related to gender and race within the SHA, from ensuring that gender-neutral bathrooms are available at conferences to running anti-racism workshops to honoring especially diverse field-schools to setting up mentoring relationships for young archaeologists. One especially interesting development was the effort to reach out to Historically Black Colleges and Universities near Fort Worth to invite professors and students to our conference. GMAC is also working on a special issue of Historical Archaeology on minority issues, so keep your eyes peeled for that!
GMAC Anti-Racism Workshops
One of GMAC’s biggest projects over the last few years has been to offer anti-racism trainings at SHA annual meetings. As in previous years, trainers from Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training came to present their “Introduction to Systemic Racism” workshop on Saturday morning. In that workshop, each table wrote a six-word essay on why we must do anti-racist work as archaeologists. We wrote, “We can do better historical archaeology,” and “Collaboratively breaking patterned barriers with intention,” and “Lean back, let others lean in,” among others. Then, we discussed the ways that social institutions in the United States value white people over people of color, men over women, straight people over queer people, thin people over fat people, nondisabled people over disabled people, etc. After talking in general, we zoomed in to the specific: how does the SHA as an institution continue these oppressions? The conversation began with discussion of the orthodoxy of the SHA, the expense of coming to conferences, who is invited to symposia, and the scheduling of the conference.
The conversation continued on Sunday morning in the “Second Steps Anti-Racist Workshop,” where folks who had participated in the introductory training continued our educations. In this workshop, we primarily focused on the SHA, talking about where we stand on the road to becoming a truly multicultural organization. Then, we brainstormed ways to move forward: creating a sliding scale for conference fees, conducting outreach efforts to diverse institutions, livestreaming symposia so that people who cannot attend the conference can still participate, developing a more transparent culture about leadership and governance, and putting one person in charge of making our annual meeting accessible to people with disabilities. I hope that many of these changes will occur over the next few years, and that more people will attend the anti-racism trainings every annual meeting!
Intersectionality as Emancipatory Archaeology Symposium
Anti-oppression work was evident in the archaeological research being presented as well, especially in the symposium “Intersectionality as Emancipatory Archaeology.” With too many participants for a typical symposium slot, this symposium had two sessions on Friday morning and afternoon. It was organized by Stefan Woehlke, Megan Springate, and Suzanne Spencer-Wood, with Whitney Battle-Baptiste serving as discussant. In sixteen papers, a diverse group of scholars applied the idea of intersectionality to a wide variety of different archaeological contexts. The term intersectionality, coined by Black feminist legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, refers to the way that systems of oppression like racism, patriarchy, and classism, interact with each other to create many different effects on people depending on their many identities. Symposium participants applied intersectionality theory to educating Washington, D.C., youth about archaeology (Alexandra Jones), the Pauli Murray Project (Colleen Betti), analysis of white women planters’ roles at Montpelier (Matthew Reeves), and Black women’s consumption patterns at a postbellum farm in Texas (Nedra Lee), among many other subjects. Intersectionality in archaeology is a hot topic right now: the SAA Annual Meeting in Vancouver this spring also featured a symposium on intersectionality issues.
Women in Diving and Archaeology: Past, Present, and Future
ACUA members took part in anti-oppression work too! On Thursday afternoon, Jessica Keller and Mary Connelly organized a forum with about fifteen women underwater archaeologists discussing their experiences of sexism and advice for young women in navigating the field. Although the panelists agreed that underwater archaeology is a male-dominated world, they argued that through hard work, building networks of women colleagues and mentors, and patience, the field can become more welcoming to everyone.
It was exciting to see so much anti-oppression work happening at the Society for Historical Archaeology meeting. I hope that all these efforts will continue, making archaeology a more diverse and equitable discipline.