Landscapes surround and interact with us; they constrain and inspire our actions. Delving into the study of past landscapes provides one of the most exciting and dynamic avenues for archaeological research. The forthcoming thematic issue of Historical Archaeology, edited by Eric Proebsting and Jack Gary, includes a collection of 12 articles that are dedicated to exploring “Current Research into the Archaeology of American Landscapes.” These contributions share a common desire to uncover how people, places, and environments have related with each other over time. In doing so, the authors carefully examine the historical and archaeological materials that have been left behind to build on previous scholarship and blaze new trails as they contribute to topics of lasting significance for our discipline.
The geographic scope of the collection ranges across urban and rural areas of North America. Articles touch on important research themes, including the African diaspora, the colonial encounters between Native Americans and Europeans, and the ecological changes associated with the growth of the modern world. Other areas of research include the landscapes of industrial labor; conflict and confinement; agricultural plantations; ornamental grounds; and historical myth and memory.
Following the introductory essay, “Contributing to the Archaeology of American Landscapes,” by Eric Proebsting and Jack Gary, articles in the forthcoming issue of Historical Archaeology 50(1) include:
- “What Towne Belong You To?” Landscape, Colonialism, and Mobility in the Potomac River Valley—Julia A. King, Mary Kate Mansius, and Scott M. Strickland
- Dynamic Landscapes: The Emergence of Formal Spaces in Colonial Virginia—Barbara J. Heath
- “As It Was Originally Laid Out by the General”: George Washington and His Upper Garden—Esther C. White
- The Multiple Landscapes of Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest—Jack Gary and Eric Proebsting
- Urbanization and Landscape Change in Early-Eighteenth-Century Boston: The Environmental Archaeology of Town Dock—David Landon, Heather Trigg, Allison Bain, and Edward Morin
- Meeting at Market: The Intersection of African American Culture, Craft, and Economy and the Landscape of Charleston, South Carolina—J. W. Joseph
- Plowing Prairies and Raising Stock: Historical Ecology and Community Life on the Cotton Frontier of Southwest Arkansas—Eric Proebsting
- Intersecting Landscapes: A Palynological Study of Pueblo, Spanish, and Anglo-American Land Use in New Mexico—Kyle W. Edwards and Heather B. Trigg
- The Archaeology of Underground Mining Landscapes—Paul J. White
- Landscapes of Japanese American Internment—Stacey Lynn Camp
- The Practice and Theory of New Heritage for Historical Archaeology—Edward González-Tennant and Diana González-Tennant
A Note from the SHA President: New Philadelphia as a Possible National Park Site
Historical archaeology has built part of its identity on the study of the disenfranchised, those who history didn’t bother to record. From early work by James Deetz at Parting Ways to the archaeology of Black Lucy’s Garden to Leland Ferguson’s recognition of the “Afro” in Colono-Indian Ware, archaeologists have led the effort to bring Africa and Africans into the lens of American history. That emphasis has resonated in cultural resource management, where consultants have realized that African sites are places that are little known and hence deserving of study, and as a result we have seen on a long lineage of African American CRM sites and studies ranging from Yaughan and Curiboo plantations to the African Burial Ground.
While we have done a good job of recognizing African American history and sites, we have been less successful in connecting those resources to their descendant communities, in serving and promoting public outreach. As a discipline engaged in digging the earth, we realize that all of our nation’s significant sites are not extant, were not built of brick and stone, and were not cherished by communities with the resources and legal position to protect and promote places of note. As a result, historic archaeological sites of the politically disconnected are too seldom celebrated and saved.
As archaeologists, we know these sites can speak since they have spoken to us. What we have forgotten is our responsibility to be storytellers and spokespersons.
Now we have a chance to have our voices heard. The National Park Service (NPS) is considering adding the New Philadelphia town as a unit and National Park.
New Philadelphia was formed by Frank McWorter, an African American who purchased his own freedom and that of at least fifteen family members, who moved to Illinois – a free state – where he was able to purchase land, and who then formed and registered the town of New Philadelphia in 1836. McWorter was the first African American to legally register a town in America; New Philadelphia was that town. It is an important place in American history, it is important to its community, and its story needs to be heard. It is a story that speaks to African America’s struggle with slavery and racism, as well as African Americans’ efforts to challenge social constructs by creating a racially diverse town.
New Philadelphia was discovered, uncovered, and explored by a team of historical archaeologists including Anna Agbe-Davies, Joy Beasley, Chris Fennell, Tom Gwaltney, Tommy Hailey, Bryan Haley, Michael Hargrave, Cheryl LaRoche, Terrance Martin, and Paul Shackel. It is a testament of the power of historical archaeology to connect descendant communities to a past that history forgot.
From now until June 11, the NPS is soliciting comments on the addition of New Philadelphia as a National Park unit. You can support the inclusion of New Philadelphia by commenting on the NPS site.
The NPS has already signified the historical significance of New Philadelphia by adding it the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, by designating it a National Historic Landmark in 2009, and by including it in the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program in 2013. However, only 6% of the NPS 410 units are directly associated with African American history. We have an opportunity to help right past wrongs, by including sites such as New Philadelphia among the places our nation celebrates and supports. Please join me in letting the NPS know that we believe New Philadelphia deserves to be added to the NPS as a park, which will protect its heritage and promote its legacy.
JW Joseph, PhD, RPA
By Jeanne M. Moe, BLM Project Archaeology Lead
Launched in 1990, Project Archaeology is a growing national education program jointly sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Montana State University. The program is distributed through a national network of 38 state and regional programs. More than 15,000 educators have received Project Archaeology curricular materials and professional development. We estimate that these teachers reach almost 300,000 learners in both classroom and informal settings. The program grows each year, and in 2015 alone, we served almost 3,000 teachers.
While we are proud of our past successes and steady annual growth, we would like to reach many more educators with archaeology education. To extend our network, we began offering the annual Project Archaeology Leadership Academy in 2010 for classroom teachers. A total of 94 new Project Archaeology Master Teachers have graduated from the Leadership Academy to date. These teachers are expected to offer at least one professional development event to their peers over the next four years after completing the Academy. The 7th Annual Leadership Academy will be held June 27 – July 1, 2016 and we are currently accepting applications.
Our Master Teachers have broken the mold and gone above and beyond the call of duty to bring archaeology education to their peers and to learners of all ages. Several Academy graduates have either revived existing Project Archaeology programs or started new statewide or regional programs. For example, Sam Kirkley formed a partnership with Utah BLM and Southern Utah University to re-establish the Utah program. Additionally, she formed a partnership with Girl Scouts of America to offer an archaeology merit badge. Dani Hoefer revived the Colorado program through a partnership with the Colorado Council of Professional Archaeologists, thus involving the archaeological profession in public education. Mel Harvey, established a new state program in Arkansas. Moriah Grooms-Garcia and Carol Ng He, both from the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, established an Illinois state program, helped us finish Project Archaeology: Investigating Nutrition, and have offered several workshops and two online courses to distribute the new guide. In partnership with the local BLM office, Paulette LeBlanc, a retired teacher in Safford, Arizona, has been offering workshops for local teachers every year since 2010. Freda Miller and Ryan Boettcher, teachers in Cowley, Wyoming, offer an archaeology-based summer school for middle school students and arranged for the students to volunteer at an archaeological excavation in Montana. Nathan McAlistair, winner of the Gilda Lehrman Preserve America History Teacher of the Year Award, offers Project Archaeology professional development in Kansas whenever his busy schedule allows it.
While we designed the Leadership Academy for classroom teachers, many archaeologists and museum educators have used the training and materials to expand their knowledge of archaeology education and to establish new Project Archaeology programs. Interested in expanding your public archaeology credentials? Apply for the Leadership Academy today.
by Megan Sirak, East Carolina University
In January 2016 Washington D.C. hosted the 49th Annual Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology. I was encouraged by one of my professors to attend as he thought it would benefit me. He could not have been more correct.
While attending a professional conference as an undergraduate student may seem daunting, it is entirely worthwhile. As an undergraduate you are not always expected to present a paper or poster as most graduate students and professionals do in this forum. This allows younger students to sit back and observe conference proceedings. If you as a student are anticipating attending graduate school you will be expected to present your research one day. The best way to overcome the initial nerves and misgivings that come with professional presentations is to first observe them as a bystander. We have all had to do presentations in our undergraduate careers, but the types of presentations and talks given at the professional level, such as at the SHA’s annual meeting, is a completely different animal. Having the opportunity to observe numerous presentations not only gives undergraduate students an idea of what will be expected of them in the future, but it also opens their eyes to the broad spectrum of research being conducted in archaeology today. I personally began studying anthropology and archaeology late in my undergraduate career. Attending numerous symposiums on a number of topics at this conference educated me on how diverse archaeology is.
Although observation is a luxury for many undergraduates, I do not believe younger conference attendees should be passive in their conference experience. Attending professional conferences is a fantastic way to network, ask questions, and practice professionalism. The workshops offered are an excellent way to expand your knowledge on a particular topic. Volunteering at the conference is also a great way to make introductions. By volunteering, you get the opportunity to meet other students in your field and you are given a ready-made excuse to interact with the professionals attending. There are also a number of other great events for students to attend and be involved in such as the Ethics Bowl, the Past Presidents Reception, and the Student Subcommittee to the Academic and Professional Training Committee.
So yes, attending a professional conference with some of the biggest names in archaeology can be extremely daunting, but the benefits of attending should far outweigh any fears undergraduate students might have. I would encourage all students to attend a professional conference, such as the Society for Historical Archaeology’s annual meeting, while they are still undergraduates. Attending in 2016 was completely worth giving up a few days of my winter break to further my passion for historical archaeology and my career. There is nothing more rewarding than being in a room of people who share your passion. Having the opportunity to meet students of archaeology from across the country was equaling rewarding. The students of today will be the professionals of tomorrow. We should relish the opportunity to meet our future colleagues and interact with them. So the next time a professor or fellow student suggests you should attend a conference, jump on it. Conferences are occasions for learning, so as students we should seize every opportunity.
by Miles Shugar
How did a failed 1970s highway project in the heart of Boston, Massachusetts bring generations of diverse individuals in contact with their city’s roots in the 19th century over jerk chicken and rice? The answer lies in historical archaeology, which can serve as a focal point for community enrichment in ways that might not seem obvious from the onset. When we uncover new information about the past, we prove the axiom that we never live only in one time. Fieldwork leads to data, and data is interpreted, contextualized, and finally published in academic circles. That often marks the end of archaeology’s journey into contemporary conversation. Sometimes, however, data can be resurrected and take on a new life in the neighborhood where it was recovered.
A busy lunch at Haley House Bakery Cafe. Photo reused with permission from Haley House Bakery Cafe.
In the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury, southwest of the downtown core along the centuries-old artery of Washington Street, a humble but powerful bakery cafe is bringing history to the forefront of community enrichment. Haley House Bakery Cafe is a wing of the non-profit organization called the Haley House, whose members made it their mission for six decades to promote the physical, economic, and social well-being of underprivileged members in the greater Roxbury community. The Cafe is entirely staffed by men and women who have faced significant barriers to employment, such as incarceration or economic hardship, and enthusiastic volunteers from around the greater Boston community. Thanks to lively events programming and a unique partnership with the Roxbury Historical Society, Haley House Bakery Cafe has been able to feature historical programming to its customers, joining sustainable business practices with historical advocacy and public education.
A mural on the wall of the bakery cafe. Photo reused with permission from Haley House Bakery Cafe.
Haley House also serves as a platform for local advocates to communicate their passions to their neighbors through arts and educational programming. Roxbury History Night is a monthly event where local historians give a lecture on topics ranging from the lost beer breweries of Lower Roxbury in the 19th century to the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the neighborhood. The café is often packed to standing-room capacity when local history is brought back to life with photographs, artifacts, and lively lectures delivered by those most passionate and knowledgeable about it.
In October 2014, as part of Archaeology Month, the Haley House Bakery Café and the Roxbury Historical Society hosted “Roxbury’s Southwest Corridor: Archaeology of Industry and Transportation.” The event featured legendary local archaeologist Beth Bower, the supervising researcher for the massive urban archaeology project from the 1970s known as the Southwest Corridor Project. In the 1960s, plans were made to construct an eight-lane highway through the heart of some of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods, including Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and the South End. In preparation for the highway, entire blocks and neighborhoods were completely demolished and left barren, forcing many to leave behind their homes. Boston’s citizens fought back against the highway, and in 1972 the highway was cancelled. Later in that decade, the strip of land cleared for the highway was repurposed into an urban corridor of parks, and the ground below it was reserved for a new subway line. With the recent inception of the Environmental Protection Act, archaeology took place to determine the extent of and plan for the mitigation of sensitive historic resources affected by the subway line.
Beth Bower and her team of archaeologists uncovered myriad sites and thousands of artifacts from breweries, factories, foundries, and workers’ tenement housing from the 18th-20th centuries. Their work became the foundation for a cultural, social, and industrial history of a thriving area known as the Stoney Brook Valley, named for the old waterway that fed ts tanneries, breweries, and factories. The Phase II and III excavations there told the story of Roxbury’s emergence as an industrial hub in the 19th century.
That same Roxbury History Night in October 2014 featured me, a recently graduated student of the UMass Boston Historic Archaeology program who had reinterpreted Beth’s work for my Masters’ thesis. Together, Beth and I talked about the history of the movement to stop the Southwest Corridor Highway, the fieldwork that produced the rich history of the Stoney Brook Valley that we enjoy today, and the interpretation of a particular site from her work–the Metropolitan Horse Railroad Company.
Photo of some of the first electrified streetcars in Boston. Reprinted with permission of author.
The Metropolitan Horse Railroad Company site was first a horsecar and then an electric streetcar station during the heyday of the trolley in greater Boston from approximately 1850 to 1920. Halfway through its life, engineers innovated powering streetcars with electrified lines, and from 1891 to 1893 nearly all of the horses and horsecar railway materials at the station were sold to the public at auction. By 1895, the complex at large had transitioned from a bustling horsecar hub to a rather quiet electrified station. The horse railroad buildings were demolished around 1925 with the advent of the automobile, and over top of it was built an auto repair garage. My work introduced Beth’s archaeological work to new documentary sources to suggest that, contrary to popular narrative, horses were still employed at the station after its streetcar lines were electrified. Instead of pulling the actual streetcars, horses now probably served as a power source for the exciting leisure activity of sleigh riding, or for the ongoing task of track upkeep and repair.
When Beth and I had concluded our presentation, the audience was eager to ask questions and initiate a lengthy discussion of old Roxbury. Some audience members even remembered elements of the old Roxbury landscape and shared how they had seen their neighborhood undergo many substantial changes. Many of the questions centered on the actual technology of the horse railroad and later electric trolley or on the lives of the horses during the height of the Metropolitan Horse Railroad Company. These types of questions about the structure and operation of mass transit are especially valuable in Boston today as we continue to struggle with an aging public transportation system recently crippled by historic snowfall. The layout of Boston’s early transit lines influenced the growth and development of Boston’s neighborhoods, including Roxbury. Many of the same lines that were laid in the 19th century are still used by Boston commuters today, and they still influence who has access to Boston’s economic opportunities.
Author’s photo of the detail of a riveted leather horse collar worn by draught horses of the Metropolitan Railroad Company recovered by Beth Bower’s team
Reexamining and recontextualizing previously excavated archaeological sites is a valuable practice not only for archaeologists, but for the communities in which archaeologists work. The collaboration between local Boston archaeologists, the Roxbury Historical Society, and the Haley House Bakery Cafe is a successful example of how these studies can take on new life. The Haley House is an important venue that provides a hub and a meeting place for a growing and changing community. Its location within the community of Roxbury and its mission to employ outreach and teach demonstrates that archaeology can be presented to the public at a venue outside the walls of a university where a diverse and community-conscious audience can learn about a part of their neighborhood’s past. These gatherings serve not only to enrich and educate our neighbors but also to strengthen archaeological study though first hand knowledge and vibrant discussion around a space that has been home to some for generations.
Where else is archaeology shared with diverse communities in unique venues?
By Suzie Thomas (University of Helsinki) and Joseph A.P. Wilson (Fairfield University)
In March 2014, social media was alight with calls to axe the National Geographic show “Nazi War Diggers”. The collective online efforts of archeologists, historians and others led to the program being canceled before it was broadcast. In January 2016 we experienced déjà vu, as the UK’s Channel 5 aired “Battlefield Recovery”, the same program renamed and (possibly) re-edited. Twitter comments – not only from archeologists – have been largely negative, and the viewing figures have apparently plummeted with each episode. However, the show is also a reminder of why archeologists must continue to engage with the media and the wider public, and that we are not the only interest group looking to influence television programming with regards to cultural heritage and history.
It is always challenging for archeologists to decide how to respond requests for information to media companies. Many have been frustrated at seeing recommendations ignored, or at what seemed like a small enquiry ballooning into hours, even days, of work. One of us (Thomas) was approached – as were others – by ClearStory, the production company behind “Battlefield Recovery”. Thomas gave advice related to her area of specialism (the relationship between hobbyist metal detecting and archaeology), as well as recommending contact with specialists for other aspects of their plans. Subsequently she reflected on her ultimately negative experiences in the European Journal of Archaeology, writing to an academic audience, and noting how little control academic consultees have over a final product.
The show itself follows a group of three metal detecting enthusiasts and a militaria dealer, as they dig at various sites of World War II’s Eastern Front. Inspired by the American metal detecting series “Diggers”, the show brings this formula to Europe – incorporating WWII in a nod to war history’s enduring popularity on television. However, among the many concerns that archaeologists and others have with the show, the handling of human remains is particularly problematic, not only due to the absence of scientific procedure but also raising serious compassionate concerns. It is inevitable that the bones uncovered on camera are someone’s relatives. Although there are voluntary groups that seek and repatriate fallen soldiers (for example in Russia and Latvia), exhuming remains on film without forensic specialist supervision is deeply troubling. This is before we consider the safety risk of encountering unexploded ordnance.
Recently, the Society for American Archeology discussed the challenges of presenting archeology within reality TV. They noted that, while programs such as “Diggers” are still problematic, sustained dialogue with the National Geographic Channel has led to improvements, and may bring more in the future (read about Montpelier’s successful collaboration with the show). On the Society of Historical Archaeology’s blog, archeologist Charles Ewen noted regarding National Geographic Channel’s 2014 cancellation of “Nazi War Diggers”: “Is this only a temporary reprieve till the next outrageous show comes along? Will this be a rolling battle against edutainment with no end in sight? Perhaps not, but we are going to have to be willing to work with the networks.” Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Corp’s acquisition of National Geographic in November 2015 resulted in significant senior staff layoffs. Whether National Geographic preserves its reputation will likely depend on financial calculus. Communications professor W Joseph Campbell noted that Fox have a choice. They could move National Geographic toward greater professional respectability as they did with the Wall Street Journal, or they could move it “down-market”, as they did with the New York Sun and News of the World. Time will tell which path they choose. Whatever happens though, archeologists wanting to engage with a broader audience must work in venues such as these, or risk being resigned to obscurity in the echo chamber of the ivory tower.
Also in November 2015, Buzzfeed unearthed video footage from a 1998 university commencement speech where neurosurgeon-turned-Republican-presidential-hopeful Ben Carson voiced opinions on Egyptology. Dr. Carson suggested that biblical patriarch Joseph constructed the pyramids as grain-storage devices. Archeologists and Egyptian officials bemusedly dismissed his claims. Carson is not an archeologist, and his pet theory is based more on his religious views than empirical evidence. But much of the conversation has strayed toward questioning his fundamental competence, for example when the New York Post’s headline described Carson’s idiosyncratic view as a “crazy theory”. While it is appropriate for professional archaeologists to cite credible evidence when faced with quirky folk-theories about funerary monuments, online vitriol has arguably been counterproductive. For non-archeologists it can be challenging to differentiate between plausible and implausible theories. Interpreting archeological data can be extremely subtle on the best of days; those who fail to grasp nuanced arguments should not be judged too harshly. The scorn heaped upon Carson for his opinions appears (at least initially) to have strengthened his position among those who could carry him to a presidential nomination. Pejorative indictments of Carson’s odd assertions could be extrapolated to indict the ignorance of the public at large, which could encourage further entrenchment of popular anti-intellectualism. As the Washington Post put it: “Critics who focus on Carson’s pyramid quote miss that he called for better science education in the same speech, or that his comments about God, the Big Bang and evolution actually reflect that of most Americans, if not scientists”.
As archeologists, we should respect our audiences and remember that we are not the only interest group claiming knowledge, however inaccurate other interpretations might turn out to be. Nor should we “punch down”, attacking less well-educated opponents and following the playbook of culture wars. With the recent annihilation of Palmyra and the murder of an esteemed Syrian archeologist (for refusing to provide loot to Daesh), you could do better than see media turf wars as the discipline’s raison d’etre. “Battlefield Recovery” is not what any archeologist would want to see broadcast. The History Channel dropped plans to broadcast the program in New Zealand and Australia in light of critical feedback. However, the fact that both Channel 5 and ClearStory believe that it is fit for viewing, should be a rally call to archeologists to continue engaging with the media, and to do so with clear and accessible messages. We must remember that we are not the only voices out there. The “Battlefield Recovery” presenters doubtless regard themselves as experts of a different kind. Adopting a dismissive tone towards non-archeologists is tempting, but does not always help. The last thing we need is to appear is as elitists who do not want anyone else to encounter heritage. That is not our raison d’etre. Encountering heritage in an informed, respectful and scientifically sound manner, is.
Here’s the latest in our series of entertaining interviews with a diverse array of your fellow SHA members. Meet a member for the first time or learn something about a colleague that you never knew before. This blog series also offers current members an opportunity to share their thoughts on why SHA membership is important (Camaraderie? Professional service? Exchange of ideas in conference rooms and beyond? You tell us!). If you would like to be an interviewee, please email the Membership Committee Social Media Liaisons Eleanor Breen (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Kim Pyszka (email@example.com).
What’s the most interesting artifact you’ve ever found? At Fort Willshire in South Africa, I found over 100 cattle horn cores covered and intertwined with thousands of glass seed beads.
Who influenced your decision to become an archaeologist? Jim Deetz. He was my undergraduate professor at U.C. Berkeley. He made archaeology sound fun and exciting, although he suggested that I become an ethnographer rather than an archaeologist. He said that the world needed better ethnographies that are related to archaeology. After my initial decision, Peter Schmidt and Kathy Deagan further influenced the kind of historical archaeologist that I have become.
What is the first site you worked on? What is the last one (or current one)? The first site that I worked on was Flowerdew Hundred under Jim Deetz. I was an undergraduate student, and this was my first field school. I am currently working on collections from Nicodemus, Kansas and James Island, The Gambia, but the last site that I dug was the Best Farm Slave Village on the Monocacy National Battlefield in Maryland. I was working with Joy Beasley of the National Park Service and my colleague at Howard, Eleanor King.
What did you want to be when you grew up? When I was very young, I wanted to be an actress, model, artist or dancer. When I first started college, I wanted to be a mathematician or a medical doctor. When I met Jim Deetz, I wanted to be an archaeologist.
Why are you a member of SHA? I identify myself as a historical archaeologist. Also, when I first started, it seemed like an extended family. Many people knew each other, and I wanted to be a part of that. Now, it has grown so much. Although I see many new faces, I still think of the SHA as it was back then…like a family.
At what point in your career did you first join SHA? My first year in graduate school.
How many years have you been a member (approximately)? 1992-2014, approximately 20 years. There were a few years off and on when I wasn’t able to attend the meetings.
Which article from Historical Archaeology has been the most influential to you? The collection of articles on the questions that count in historical archaeology: Historical Archaeology, vol. 22, no. 1 (1988)(Read this for free on the SHA Publications Explorer)
Which benefit of belonging to SHA do you find the most beneficial? Reconnecting each year with people in my field of interest. It is also a quick way to keep up with the latest developments in historical archaeology, and a good way to generate new ideas.
by Joe Joseph, SHA President
I am two weeks into my term as SHA President and find in my in-box a bill in the Florida legislature that would allow anyone to obtain an archaeological permit to excavate and possess (and sell) artifacts from Florida state waters for a fee of $100 ; a bill in Wisconsin to allow a mining company to mine an American Indian effigy mound without regard for the presence human remains, due to its economic needs (http://savethemounds.com/); and in the UK the appearance of “Battlefield Recovery,” a resurrection of the “Nazi War Diggers” program that National Geographic created but pulled following archaeological outcry over the cavalier treatment of human remains (http://thepipeline.info/blog/2016/01/05/rolling-news-nazi-war-diggers-gets-uk-tv-debut-on-channel-five-as-battlefield-recovery/). The title has changed, but little else, certainly not the disregard for history and archaeology.
As I scroll through the SHA blog I find Charlie Ewen’s post of April 10, 2014, on National Geographic’s pulling of the Nazi War Diggers program, and his prophetic question – “So, mission accomplished. Or was it?”
Now we know the answer.
I view these three actions as symptoms of a larger illness: a shift that we are seeing in politics and society that places an emphasis on the individual over community, on personal and corporate interests over the common good.
As historical archaeologists, we recognize the place of the collective, the role of community, the foundation of culture that supports the lives that individuals live. Unfortunately, that foundation is not widely acknowledged in a current society that rails against government without considering the personal consequences of its dismantling, and that emphasizes personal achievement to the extent that the inequity between the disenfranchised and the elite is at historic levels.
As I write letters I am reminded that we as archaeologists have an opportunity and responsibility to join in the conversation. The sites that we excavate speak to the human experience, writ large, where every life has meaning in telling the story of the past. History was once the possession and product of the elite. Historical archaeology is shared by all. The artifacts we encounter tell not only the story of global contact and interchange, but also of the reworking and repositioning of objects to reflect different cosmologies and cultures. And our jobs themselves are work done for the common good, not coin and currency, as all of us who are engaged in historical archaeology do so because we share in a need to bring the full picture of the past into present conversation, to write histories that would otherwise be unwritten.
Each of us has a role to play in this effort. Use social media and other avenues to oppose legislation and media that diminishes our sites and heritage. Reach out to your political representatives to let them know what you do and the importance of your work. But most importantly, use the sites and artifacts in your life and work to reach out to the public, to remind them that we are all part of a human continuum, that our appreciation of the past grounds us in the present, and that respect for the heritage of all provides us with the framework to build a better future.
The answer to Charlie’s question, quite simply, is that our mission is never done. It is why we do what we do.
Below, you will find the letters that have been drafted and sent regarding the Florida House Bill 803 and in support of our colleagues at the European Archaeological Association and Society for Post Medieval Archaeology regarding the Nazi War Diggers television show, on behalf of the SHA membership:
Did you know the SHA is turning 50 in January 2017? In anticipation of the big anniversary, the History Committee wants to hear your SHA stories. At this year’s conference in Washington D.C., committee members will be set up and ready to record your SHA stories in the President’s Board Room (East Lobby) on Thursday from 1:00 to 5:00 pm and Friday from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm. Please stop by and spend a few minutes sharing your SHA story.
Not sure what you would say? Don’t think you have anything meaningful to share? No worries! Just answer one or more of the following questions and you’ll be on your way!
- When did you join the SHA?
- Why did you join?
- What was the first SHA conference you attended?
- What is your favorite memory of a SHA conference?
- Why do you like the SHA?
- What difference has the SHA made in your career?
- And any other SHA story you want to share!
The best stories will be compiled into a special presentation and featured at the 50th anniversary conference in January 2017. The more stories we record, the more meaningful the birthday bash will be! So please stop by the President’s Board Room and spend a few moments recording your stories. We want to hear from everyone! #SHAStories