Results of the January 9, 2021 Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) Government Affairs Advocacy Session:
“Interpreting the 2020 Election: What the Results Mean for Historical Archaeology.”
SHA 2021 Virtual Annual Conference

Session Organizers:
Marion Werkheiser, SHA’s government affairs consultant
Terry Klein, Chair, SHA Government Affairs Committee

In the first part of this session Marion Werkheiser reviewed the results of the 2020 election and what these results will mean for historic preservation and historical archaeology. Terry Klein then discussed the SHA’s Government Affair Committee’s top three initiatives to be advanced under the new Administration. These initiatives are linked to the new Administration’s environmental and social justice agenda. These initiatives will also have a strong likelihood of success given the new Administration’s appointees to head up federal agencies such as the Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Council on Environmental Quality.

The Government Affairs Committee’s three top initiatives are:

  • Promoting historic preservation.
  • Promoting diversity and social justice in historic preservation.
  • Tackling climate change and its impact on historical archaeological sites and other heritage resources.

In the second part of the session, Klein and Werkheiser asked session participants to provide their ideas on how SHA can best advance these initiatives over the next few years. Session participants were asked to help develop an action plan for each initiative that addressed the following:

  • What should SHA do? Identify the top action items.
  • Who should SHA talk to about in order to best advance these action items? Government? Private sector? Others? What is the message?
  • Who may be our partners in carrying out these action items? How do we engage them?
  • Who within SHA or associated with SHA should take the lead in carrying out these action items?

Session participants were also asked if there were any other initiatives that SHA should pursue.

The following is a summary of the session participants discussions and recommendations:

Promoting Historic Preservation

We are five years from the 250th celebration of the nation. Session participants recommended building on and becoming part of this celebration as a way to advance both historic preservation and promoting diversity and social justice in historic preservation. Action items can include:

  • Telling the fuller story of the American experience.
  • Educating the public about the diversity of our nation and the value of that diversity.
  • Showcasing Native American sites both in the East and in the West dating to the time of European contact.
  • Using the celebration as an opportunity to promote the National Historic Preservation Act and increasing historic preservation funding.
  • Working closely with organizations already involved in the celebration, including, but not limited to the National Park Service, the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers (NCHSPO), the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (NATHPO), other tribal organizations (including Native American tourism organizations), and state-specific groups and organizations.
  • Establishing a SHA task force for the celebration and involve all SHA committees.
  • Encouraging SHA members to get involved in preparations for the celebration at the local level.

In terms of other action items related to promoting historic preservation, session participants recommended:

  • Raising the profile of archaeology in the historic preservation community so that archaeology is understood to be an integral part of historic preservation – not separate from it.
  • Developing a one-pager on archaeology, what it does and why it is vital to communities and society in general. SHA members should use this one-pager when meeting with federal, state, and local officials, and also members of the public. Note in the one-pager (and through other platforms) that archaeology is not just excavation. Archaeologists are involved in the preservation of sacred places of value to many different communities. Preservation of sacred places is a useful entry point for building historic preservation coalitions.

Promoting Diversity and Social Justice in Historic Preservation

In terms of action items related to this initiative, session participants recommended:

  • Increasing coordination with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) professionals who work on environmental justice issues.
  • Increasing national recognition of Native American and African American sites, especially in terms of listing these sites on the National Register of Historic Places. Current application of the criteria for listing on the National Register (e.g., aspects of integrity) are not conducive to these types of sites. These sites are too often identified as not having sufficient integrity and as a result are not worthy of listing. This approach ignores the nature of these sites and the communities that built and used these sites.
  • Documenting the extent to which African American sites have been listed on the National Register and state registers. In addition, use information on these listed sites to promote African American history.
  • Documenting and showcasing to the public all of the work and research on federal lands involving African American sites and other sites of underrepresented communities. There is a wealth of untapped information and histories.
  • Increasing funding to the National Register for improving legacy record digitization and public access to the information in these records. And also increase funding for digitizing state site records. Funding should also be made available for maintaining these federal and state site databases.
  • Working with the American Battlefield Protection Program to increase the number of Native American sites from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 on the Program’s list.

Climate Change and Its Impact on Historical Archaeological Sites and Other Heritage Resources

In terms of action items related to this initiative, session participants recommended:

  • Advocating for the management and protection of sites in the U.S. territories, which are especially vulnerable.
  • Using the archaeological record and archaeological research to inform policy makers on the impacts and responses to climate change. The past has lessons that can be applied to current understanding and decision-making involving climate change.
  • Working with federal agencies, such as FEMA, to advance pro-active planning for the management and protection of terrestrial and underwater sites impacted by climate change, and this includes promoting increased agency funding for pre-disaster planning and mitigation.
  • Supporting and funding programs that use members of the public (citizen scientists) to identify and monitor coastal sites in the U.S. and U.S. territories being impacted by climate change.

Additional Government Affairs Initiative

Session participants identified an additional initiative that addressed the archaeological labor force. SHA, in partnership with other organizations such as the American Cultural Resource Association and the Register of Professional Archaeologists, should:

  • More effectively support the people actually doing archaeology.
  • Demonstrate to policy makers at the federal and state level, the economic benefits of jobs in archaeology. When meeting with members of Congress and state officials to advocate for historic preservation, we should include discussions on the archaeology labor force and its economic benefits to communities. Also, include this topic in the one-pager discussed above.

In closing, session participants recommended developing a webinar for SHA members on the results of this session. This webinar should also discuss how SHA members can actively participate in and support the advancement of these government affairs initiatives.

Written by Mark Freeman

Website Editor