The last decade has seen a huge growth in writing about public archaeology – of all sorts. Happily, much of the recent writing has moved beyond the very descriptive, somewhat celebratory accounts which appeared throughout the 1990’s. These earlier accounts were a useful way of sharing strategies, ideas, and encouragement as archaeologists began to better understand the intersections between archaeological agendas and diverse “public” ones. Over time, and concurrent with recent efforts to decolonize archaeological practice, the “prime mover” for public archaeology work has moved well past “just” promoting stewardship, into arenas which are more self-critical, reflexive, and analytical. This is to be expected as any specialty matures and is a positive development.
One area that remains less explored, however, is how all of this laudable and sometimes even “activist” public archaeology work plays out in the long run. Traditionally, archaeologists (and arguably, all anthropologists) have tended to think of our work in terms of this or that “project”. The assumption, implicit or otherwise, is that our projects are likely to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. We start our work (either on our own or at the behest of a community), we find ways to pay for it (or we do it for free), we work to create community alliances, interest, and networks…and then what? What do we do when the excavations end? Or, what do we do when we have a new project that beckons?
Obviously the answer to this varies, but the point is that public archaeologists cannot, usually, simply write their reports, pack up their trowels and move on to the next project. Doing this is difficult in part because of the personal relationships that we develop in order to do the work. It is especially difficult if part of our work has been to develop processes for moving the work forward – especially development and administrative processes, such as fundraising, program development, minute-taking, meeting-arranging, and the like. That is, we sometimes call “administrivia” is not trivial at all. I suspect that many successful, engaged, and productive community / collaborative / participatory projects begin a downward path the first time that someone important fails to be invited to a meeting, thanked for a donation, or otherwise taken care of administratively. Or, even more important, when funding cannot be obtained to keep the post-excavation work going – the outreach, the oral history interviews, the kids’ programs, the museum displays, etc. Often these things are done, during a project’s heyday, by the public archaeology person who is trying to generate interest, get local input and publicity – and, to meet their own agendas, gather data. Local community groups usually have few resources to fund this work as paid work, and if/when the archaeologist leaves, it is all too easy for the work itself to falter.
It is true, of course, that these concerns are often more important to archaeologists than to communities themselves – as my colleague Patti Jeppson pointed to me when she read this draft (she allowed me to share it here to help generate blog discussion). Jeppson noted that in her experience public archaeology is part of a “community’s historical trajectory (with archaeology dipping in and out rather then ending)”. I agree, and would just say that, like everything else, each context and situation are different. In my experience, the public archaeologist often takes on the “Initiator” role (described in the literature about “participatory action research” – see Stoecker 1997). When acting as “Initiators”, the archaeologist comes up with a research or project idea and invites the community to participate – and keeps the process going, as described above. Other potential roles would be the “Consultant”, in which the community commissions the research and the academic is accountable to it, and the “Collaborator”, which would be the ideal. In this last scenario the community would be driving the research, including partnering to formulate research questions, analyze results – and keeping the process moving. Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh and T. J. Ferguson described something similar in their discussion of a “collaborative continuum” (Colwell-Chanthaphonh and Ferguson 2008). The idea is that all collaborative projects fall at one point or another on this sort of continuum, and their location on it can shift over time, or as different players become involved.
The dilemma I am concerned with here reflects my current experience with two different projects, in which local community groups, consciously positioned as “in charge”, still rely on me to keep the sort of processes I described above going. This has happened to varying degrees in each – there are some key community people who do continue to function as full partners in the work, and to drive much of it. The reality is, however, that during periods of time where I am less active, forward movement tends to slow, or sometimes stop. Because we are partners, we have had conversations about this, and together are asking the following sorts of questions:
• Do some public/collaborative efforts simply have a life cycle?
• To what extent should “capacity building” be a part of what public archaeologists do – for some sorts of projects?
• How do we (or should we?) devise ethical exit strategies from projects which have reached either a natural or unnatural end, or in which our work is no longer effective, or even just when we reach a point of wanting (or perhaps, needing, for our own professional or personal well being) to move on?
• How do issues about “sustainability” play into the decisions that we and the local communities we work with make?
• How can projects sustain themselves in the face of contemporary financial challenges and the evolving interests and skillsets of individual professional and local collaborators?
I do not have the answers to these questions, and welcome further ideas and potential solutions.
Colwell-Chanthaphonh, C. and T. J. Ferguson
2008 Introduction: The Collaborative Continuum. In Collaboration in Archaeological Practice: Engaging Descendant Communities, edited by C. Colwell-Chanthaphonh and T. J. Ferguson, pp. 1-32. Altamira Press, Lanham, Maryland.
1997 Are Academics Irrelevant? Roles for Scholars in Participatory Research. Paper presented at the 1997 meetings of the American Sociological Society. A revised version was published in the American Behavioral Scientist, Vol . 42, No. 5, 1999., page 840-854. The Conference version is available online at http://comm-org.wisc.edu/papers98/pr.htm
The SHA Ethics Committee has been reconstituted! After a long hiatus during which the Society worked with the RPA in formulating and maintaining a common Code of Ethics, the current Board has responded to members’ requests to reconstitute its own Ethics Committee and to have its mission at the center of the Society’s activities. The Chair will be President-Elect Charles Ewen, and the committee is being formed from members representative of the field’s core concerns.
The SHA Ethics Committee is expected to take a couple of new directions.
First, the connections between the SHA and its sister organizations such as SAA and ACRA have resulted in dual or multiple memberships being common among our historical archaeologist colleagues. As such we might expect that awareness of the various ethical codes within the discipline to be the norm. Yet at present the codes vary within the discipline according to the perceived mission of the organization. Our own code urgently needs revision and re-alignment with current thinking. As we move forward on this front, we will be talking to other Ethics Committees and sharing perspectives. The possibility that an archaeologist will need to demonstrate knowledge of and allegiance to several codes at any one time is increasingly of concern, and to the extent that we share common ground, this needs to be reflected in our common orientation.
Second, some areas of practice within historical archaeology are currently the focus of attention, both negative and positive – these include the need for better outreach and education, conscientious practice in fieldwork, archaeological practice at the margins of professionalism, and issues of collections management and stewardship. The Ethics committee will be addressing these issues proactively, not just through position statements: each member of the new committee is tasked with developing one of these “Core Issues” and proposing pragmatic exercises and tools for the membership to adopt. SHA leadership is particularly keen to see the Ethics Committee take a lead role across the discipline in creating an environment, not of “best practice” but of “informed practice”, by providing methods and tools for promoting a community of informed individuals. The committee wants to move beyond description and prescription, to working more closely with the real issues in our profession.
The first meeting of the Ethics Committee is scheduled during the conference in January – we’ll be reporting back to you and introducing ourselves more formally at that stage!
It’s hard to believe that only a year ago the Gender and Minority Affairs Committee (GMAC) reconvened in Austin. Much came out of that collaboration, fueled by the active participation of SHA members in the committee organized forum, “Where do we go from here? GMAC at the crossroads.” Panelists and attendees raised key issues and discussion focused priorities for the committee going forward. One question consistently raised was: how do we create diversity within our organizations? Since Austin, a number of initiatives were started to work towards this effort. The new GMAC Student Travel Award is one such effort. This award facilitates student efforts to build and maintain networks as well as participate professionally in annual conferences. The committee also felt that, in the same vein, mentors for underrepresented students would support organizational diversity.
This is why the GMAC, in collaboration with the Academic and Professional Training Committee, is developing a mentoring program and seeks to connect students with SHA members who share research and other interests. Mentoring serves to build relationships over both long and short term as well as foster career growth. It is through these types of engagements that underrepresented students can obtain advice about critical skills and confront problems or issues specific to their experience. To learn more and share ideas about mentoring, attend the GMAC sponsored forum, “Mentorship in Historical Archaeology” on Thursday, January 5 at 1 PM.
The only way we can create a more equitable and diverse SHA is to get involved. Join us for the Gender and Minority Affairs Committee meeting on Thursday, January 5 at 7:45 AM or join the Student-Subcommittee of GMAC on Friday, January 6 at 7:45 AM.
The Society for Historical Archaeology would like to welcome you to the brand new SHA Blog. Our goal for this project is to provide useful content for SHA members, and to provide a window into our discipline for other archaeologists and members of the public who are interested in our society and our past.
On this blog, you will find a wide variety of content, including updates about conference planning, new technologies and their applications for archaeology, commentary and best practices in public archaeology, tips for professional advancement and career development for professionals and students, and commentaries and essays from archaeologists about current topics in our discipline. Our objective is to provide a resource for you that reflects the type of value you expect from an SHA membership.
In addition to this blog, we are also launching a social media campaign, called SHA Social. Over the next few weeks, we will be unveiling a new Facebook Page and Twitter account. For those of you who are already following our Conference Twitter account, never fear: only the name will change. If you “like” our Conference Facebook Page, please follow this link to join our official SHA page: this will include the same regular content from the Conference Page, in addition to other content relating to the Society as whole. The old Conference page and blog will be taken down, as this content will be migrated into our new blog and Facebook Page. Over the coming months, we will also be unveiling other social media links, including a revamped LinkedIn presence, headed by the SHA Academic and Professional Training Committee.
Please feel free to click on the RSS button in the upper left to subscribe to the SHA Blog, or enter your email address in the field provided in the sidebar to receive emails regarding new posts. We encourage you to comment on and share our content, but be sure to read over our commenting policy. We are excited about this new addition to SHA, and hope it will be a welcomed addition to your regular engagement with the Society!
The SHA has long included a significant number of student members at the outset of their careers, but attending conferences is logistically and financially challenging, so students and advisers have developed many different strategies to make conference attendance feasible. Eager to attend the conference but compelled to save some money, many of us have stories of piling into our cars for a long drive to the conference; lots of students have been part of groups crammed into a single hotel room; and many groups migrate from the hotel restaurant to eat local fast food. Edward and Judy Jelks spent their careers supporting scores of students on such journeys, encouraging them to attend and participate in the conference during Ed Jelks’ 1968-1983 tenure at Illinois State University, which followed a position at Southern Methodist University in 1965-1968. Edward Jelks was John Cotter’s assistant in excavations at Jamestown, Virginia in 1954-1956 and one of the founders of the SHA, serving as the Society’s second President in 1968 and eventually receiving the JC Harrington Award in 1988. For more than 30 years, beginning in the early 1950s, his wife Judy accompanied Jelks on numerous digs, helping plan field logistics, conducting various fieldwork tasks, reviewing manuscripts, and serving as, in her husband’s words, “a surrogate mother for scores of students over the years.”
The Ed and Judy Jelks Student Travel Award was established in 2004, when some of the Jelks’ former students, looking for a way to recognize the roles Ed and Judy had played in their education and professional development, approached the SHA with initial funds they had raised from former students and colleagues, and proposed that this be used as seed money to establish the award. Every year beginning in 2005 two students have been awarded $500 each to attend the SHA annual meeting. A list of the past recipients is included at this end of this posting.
This year we received 50 applications for the Jelks Travel Award, so the program is exceptionally popular and competitive. Many universities have decreased their student travel support or simply eliminated it entirely, and other student funding like teaching assistantships has dried up, so the scant material support for student scholarship certainly encouraged student members to apply. With Board Member Mark Warner I read 50 student paper abstracts and letters on their scholarship that included research representing nearly every corner of historical archaeology. This was exciting but also difficult, because virtually all applicants thoughtfully outlined research projects that will make an important contribution to archaeological scholarship.
We selected Master’s student Corey McQuinn (University of Albany) for his paper “A Continuity of Heritage: Outreach, Education, and Archaeology at the Steven and Harriet Myers House, Albany, New York.” Corey’s SHA paper will examine his work in Albany’s Arbor Hill neighborhood, where he is part of a project examining an Underground Railroad site in a mid-nineteenth-century African-American community. McQuinn’s work focuses on a broad 170-year history of the site’s built environment, examining how Underground Railroad histories are wielded in archaeological analysis and public heritage discourses.
The second award winner was PhD candidate Adrian Myers (Stanford) for his paper “Dominant Narratives, Popular Assumptions, and Radical Reversals in the Archaeology of German Prisoners of War in a Canadian National Park.” Myers’ research examines the Whitewater Prisoner of War Camp in Manitoba, Canada, where 450 German Afrika Korps soldiers were imprisoned during the Second World War. His SHA paper examines dominant narratives on the materiality of national parks, Nazi prisoner camps, and the complicated heritage in such contexts.
The awards will be presented at the Business Meeting at the conference in Baltimore. In 2012 the Society is committed to further develop such scholarship programs that can support more student scholars’ conference attendance. If you’re interested in contributing to that discussion or supporting such causes, do contact me.
For more on Edward Jelks’ career, see Robert Schuyler’s 2001 interview of Jelks in Historical Archaeology at http://www.jstor.org/pss/25616950 If you do not have JSTOR access, the paper is in Historical Archaeology 35(4)
In July 2011 I spent a month in Oulu, Finland with my colleague Timo Ylimaunu and a group of post-doctoral students who are doing historical archaeology in one of the northernmost cities on the face of the planet. Archaeologies of the last half-millennium are relatively rare in most of northern Europe, where there is an exceptionally rich prehistoric record and a scholarly tradition that frames archaeology as a scholarship on the distant past, but the University of Oulu has focused much of its recent fieldwork on the post-1500 material record of globalization and colonization on the northern Gulf of Bothnia. Some of the material culture inevitably is not at all like what we find in North America, but much of the material they excavate is identical to the things found on archaeology sites throughout the colonial world; likewise, their research questions are questions much like those historical archaeologists ask almost everywhere in the world. Scattered European scholars in places like Finland, Sweden, Norway, the Czech Republic, and Austria have been conducting historical archaeology for quite a while, and Oulu is simply among a recent wave of new research from European colleagues. Nevertheless, some of this work remains unknown to many of us in the US, because these European scholars cannot always attend conferences in North America, their scholarship was long somewhat inaccessible in print, and even with digitization some material is not in English. Yet with a little persistence it is becoming increasingly more practical to follow the scholarship in places like Europe, Africa, and Latin America, where a rich range of archaeologies of the last half-millennium are being conducted.
I met Timo and his colleagues in Aberdeen at the Conference on Historical Archaeology in Theory (CHAT) in 2010, where they were presenting work from the University of Oulu’s most recent project “Town, Border and Material Culture: Effects of Globalisation and Modernisation in Northern Finnish Towns Since the 15th Century.” The Town, Border, and Material Culture project began in 2009 and examines the transition from the medieval to the early modern period in the northern Gulf of Bothnia. Founded as a Swedish city in 1605, Oulu is one of a series of towns on the gulf, which reaches northwards nearly to the Arctic Circle and has long provided goods including fish, fur, tar, and paper. Archaeologists throughout the world have examined what globalization looks like in local materiality, and the Oulu project does much the same thing examining how, in their words, “everyday life changed in relation to … an emerging new worldview.” Their project examines archaeological data from sites excavated since 1973 and has included intensive documentary research on town maps and illustrations, probate inventories and fire insurance records. The project is funded by the Emil Aaltonen Foundation and the Academy of Finland and has included three PhD dissertations. Risto Nurmi’s dissertation “Development of the Urban Mind—an Object Biographical Approach,” for instance, examines urbanization in Tornio and the ways residents defined imported and local material goods in forms that often departed quite significantly from their dominant social, economic, and cultural meanings. Nurmi’s dissertation (which is in English) examines consumption and urbanization questions familiar to most historical archaeologists, but it ultimately questions how many American models of consumer status and display actually translate to the many worldwide markets where the identical goods were being purchased, used, and discarded. Like much of the most interesting international historical and post-medieval archaeology, Nurmi’s study and the Oulu project illuminate and complicate some of our most basic assumptions about material culture and global connections.
I have absolutely no background in Finnish culture or history, so it was a bit of a leap for me to go and think I might find some research, but I was confident that I would learn something from Timo and his colleagues. The Oulu scholarship on consumption has indeed forced me to rethink some of my assumptions about shopping and using material things. Like many of our international colleagues, they have an enormous amount of data and field research possibilities, and despite being under their own professional pressures—historical archaeology is a small and not always stable disciplinary niche–they have been very gracious about sharing material and helping me negotiate the place. And every place has some hidden gems: Oulu, for instance, is home to the Air Guitar World Championships (August 22-24, 2012 for those of you contemplating next summer’s vacation), and with the perpetual daylight in Summer (yes, it is a mixed blessing) I was able to spend a lot of time on the city’s astounding network of 550 kilometers of bike paths, which they say is the highest per capita amount of bike paths anywhere in the world.
Dr. Ylimaunu and his York University colleague James Symonds will be chairing a session on European historical archaeology at the SHA Conference in Baltimore on Thursday morning January 5th including work by Pavel Vareka (University of West Bohemia, Czech Republic), Natascha Mehler (University of Vienna), Per Cornell (University of Gothenberg, Sweden), Jonathan Finch (University of York), and Oulu archaeologists including Titta Kallio-Seppa, Annemari Tranberg, and Anna-Kaisa Salmi, so do drop by and say hello. And if you are sufficiently curious about Oulu in particular and Scandinavian archaeology in general, think about attending Nordic TAG (Theoretical Archaeology Group) in Oulu April 25-28, 2012.
Everyone knows professional service is an important part of fostering career growth. It also offers great networking opportunities, and gives you the chance to provide your input and expertise in the direction of the organization and discipline. Becoming active in an organization, however, can be daunting. Students may be unsure where they are welcome or concerned about the level of commitment required. SHA student members are fortunate to have many options available to them, as well as a community of non-student members who encourage their involvement. The annual conference is a great opportunity to become involved in professional service in a number of different ways.
Organizers in each host city want to share the fantastic resources available in the region. Tours of local archaeological sites and museums often afford a behind the scenes look. Workshops and round table lunches are also a great way to not only learn a new skill, but to meet other archaeologists with similar interests. Activities provide a relaxed environment and usually have built-in conversation starters. It is true that these activities cost a bit extra, but student prices are typically available.
The SHA has a wide variety of committees that oversee, organize and execute the organizations work. Friday evening there is a public business meeting that all members, students included, are encouraged to attend. Many committees may appeal to your specific interests such as the Public Education and Interpretation Committee. An obvious choice is the Student Subcommittee of the Academic and Professional Training Committee. The SSC is run by students and addresses student concerns. The Gender and Minority Affair Committee also has a new student subcommittee as well. A list of the committees is on the SHA website, along with contact information for the committee chairs: feel free to contact them about your interest, or show up at the meeting. But be prepared. Committee meetings are usually early in the day so that members can also participate in the Conference. You can find the times in the program. Also, attending a meeting isn’t a passive activity: you may find yourself working on a project for the committee during the year. This is a good thing, though. It’s why you’re getting involved.
Working at the Conference is a great way to meet people as they register and throughout the conference. There are often great perks too. Contact Kathy Concannon (email@example.com) for volunteer options for January 2012 (money saving tip: get in early, and you may very well find yourself with a little discount to the conference).
Other activities offer students a means to get more involved, meet new people and are free. Each year the SHA Past Presidents host a student reception. This is a great reason to come to the annual conference early (It is usually the first evening). Meet other students and senior archaeologists working across the globe. And don’t be shy: the Past Presidents enjoy this event and are excited to talk to the future of archaeology. They are there to talk with you! Ask them about how they got involved, and if they have any tips about how to increase your visibility within the discipline.
With so many opportunities, it is easy to get swept up. Asking questions first is typically the best way to figure out what are the best opportunities for you. This includes emails to committee chairs, asking the Past Presidents about how to be involved, talking with your advisor, and testing out workshops and other activities at the conference. Be cautious about what you can handle: what will conflict with your schoolwork or other commitments? Although colleagues understand your obligations, not keeping a commitment will reflect poorly, so be mindful. Take the time to attend several things before you commit. Your time is limited and you want to find the best use of it. If you really want to work with a particular committee but are unsure where you fit in, ask how you can help. There is plenty of work to go around.