Teaching, public archaeology, and miscellaneous intersections

Having just yesterday finished up my teaching of a 6 week archaeology field school, it’s still hard to get my thoughts off of it, or to refocus on strictly public archaeology issues. But as I think about it, the two topics are not so separate. Our field school, offered by the University of Kentucky Department of Anthropology, was held at the Shaker Village of Peasant Hill, Kentucky (www.shakervillageky.org). This is an extremely public site visited by many tourists, and our excavations were located right in the center of the village. This exposure provided a unique opportunity to engage students in public archaeology and to provide the public with a chance to see how Pleasant Hill changed over time.

Large groups on a tight time frame often peered over a fence at us (or we would run over and give them a “quick explanation”), but more leisurely non-group tourists would stop by to see what we were doing. The students were encouraged to speak freely with the visitors and explain our research goals of pinpointing the location of the 1810 Meeting House and the 1812 Centre Family Dwelling, investigating their spatial relationships and the extent to which they lined up with one another and contributed to the sense of order at the village. As an instructor, I found it gratifying to hear the students seriously repeating to the visitors the very ideas I thought had been going right over their heads as I instructed. On the last day of the field school, Morgan, one of our students, was so affected by the experience that she applied for and has been accepted as a future interpreter at the Shaker village site. This was a first for me, and while it may be a loss for us in our stock of trained excavators, it was an unusual win for public archeology in the broader sense!

Our work this summer had another unexpected public component. Once we verified that the foundation of the 1812 Centre Family Dwelling House was fairly well intact not far from the present surface grade, we added a goal of completely exposing this foundation for permanent viewing. This was extra work (not a small task, the Dwelling House main block was 56.25 ft x 45 ft), since our initial research objective could have been met by just exposing and mapping the two front corners of the building, and then backfilling. But by exposing the full foundation, we hoped to give the visitors a better sense that Pleasant Hill had changed drastically over time, and that it had a dynamic history of experimentation as it developed.

Our two buildings sites readily presented this opportunity as they were oriented to a north-south road, an orientation that was abandoned just a few years after completion of the 1812 Centre Family Dwelling. Realignment of the main village 90 degrees to east-west entailed building a new Meeting House (in 1820) and a new Centre Family House (begun in 1824), both of which are standing today within viewshed of our sites, making their strong testimony to the change of orientation. Coupled with this was the fact that the foundation we were excavating was just yards from where most visitors entered the site, making it a unique opportunity to get them thinking about all those other buildings that used to be at Pleasant Hill. Work progressed well to expose the foundation, but we could soon see that the foundations stones were preserved at many different levels, some just below the present surface grade (established in the 1970s to smooth over an overwise rough building ruin), and others up to a foot below the present grade. These deeper areas created a potential hazard for falls, sprained ankles, etc (Shaker Village has overnight guests who do walk about at night) and an obstacle for lawn maintenance. As we pondered our dilemma, Shaker Village staff member Don Pelly came up with an idea — if we could gradually “feather” down the grade in most areas, starting about a foot and a half out from the foundation to gradually lower down to meet the intact foundation stones, the hazard and maintenance burden would be sufficiently reduced. We coined the term “archeolandscaping” to help ease the burden of this work; I think throwing our new term around helped boost our spirits for say, at least a couple of hours!! Several days of work was required but thanks to the students’ efforts, the 1812 Centre Family Dwelling foundation now has a good chance to remain exposed, working to enhance the visitor experience.

And finally, I was thinking that while these aspects of our experience were very important, still most important, especially as an influence in public archaeology, were the three days we left the Shaker site and journeyed a short distance to the Civil War site of Camp Nelson, in Jessamine County, Kentucky (www.campnelson.org) to assist archaeologist Dr. Stephen McBride in that site’s annual “School Days” program, where all the 5th grade classes of Jessamine County come to Camp Nelson and watch or participate in various reenactor and hands-on history stations, including an archaeology station (often cited as one of the most popular by students and teachers). This year’s archaeology station was excavation at one of the Camp Nelson’s sutler stores. Normally the archaeology station is run by three to four archaeologists, but with the help of the 14 student field school we had a great teacher to student ratio. I was struck by the insightful comments our field school students wrote in their journals (required for the class) after the experience. Though many commented about how tiring it can be to work with large numbers of 5th graders (who would not agree?), they also commented on how exciting it was to watch the amazement of the 5th graders as they connected with material culture not touched by others for nearly 150 years.   Several commented on how important it was to give these young students a sense that history can be discovered in multiple ways, not just in books, to help them better understand the significance of their own local history, or to help them grasp the fragility of archaeological deposits. I was also struck by what a great job our students did in instructing on things like keeping unit floors flat or artifacts in place, even though they had only a couple weeks of experience behind them.

From our experience, it seems as if there is nothing to reinforce learning like being forced to instruct. Have you had similar experiences by exposing your field school students to public archaeology? What strategies do you use to teach your field school students about working with the public? What advantages and disadvantages come from doing public archaeology in a field school setting?

SHA 2013: Gender and Minority Affairs Committee Travel Award

The Society for Historical Archaeology is committed to diversity, and is excited to announce its support of:

The 2013 Gender and Minority Affairs Student Travel Award

The Gender and Minority Affairs Committee (GMAC) is sponsoring two travel awards to graduate students who are presenting at the 2013 annual meeting in Leicester. Each award provides a prize of $500 to defray travel costs. Applicants must be currently enrolled in a graduate program, be a member of the SHA, and be presenting a paper or poster at the conference.

The goals of the fellowship are to increase diversity and to encourage student involvement at the meetings. Diversity is inclusive of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, and socio-economic background. Applications are encouraged from diverse populations including, but not limited to, groups historically underrepresented in archaeology.

To apply, send a CV (the name of your advisor/supervisor should be indicated on the first page), a letter of interest, and your poster or paper abstract submission. In your letter, please address the following:

1) Explain how you will increase diversity in historical archaeology, and why increasing diversity within the discipline and the SHA is important.

2) State how participation in the SHA Conference will advance your career and research.

3) Explain how your paper will potentially benefit those who attend your session.

The letter should be succinct and no longer than two single-spaced pages.

Following the conference, award recipients are required to submit a one-page report to the GMAC Chair on their conference experience and their thoughts on diversifying archaeology that will be posted to the SHA Blog.

Please note: individuals can apply for both the GMAC and Ed and Judy Jelks Student Travel awards, but may only receive one in the same year.

Deadline for submission:  September 3, 2012

Submit your application materials to Flordeliz T. Bugarin, Chair of the Gender and Minority Affairs Committee, via email at florie_bugarin@yahoo.com.

The award will be announced by October 3, 2012, and the award funds will be distributed at the SHA conference in Leicester.

Don’t forget that in addition to the GMAC Travel Award, there are two other awards available to enable students to attend the SHA 2013 conference in Leicester.

All graduate students who are presenting a paper at the SHA conference should consider applying for the Ed and Judy Jelks Student Travel Award; two awards of $500 are available.

The Quebec City Award, of up to $750, is granted to assist French-speaking students to attend the SHA conference. To be considered for the prize, candidates must be a standing member of SHA, be registered in a French-language university (contrary to the name of the award, you don’t have to be studying in Quebec!) and preparing a thesis or dissertation in French – and they must present a substantive or theoretical paper at the annual conference. Further information about the award, and how to apply, can be found on the SHA Awards webpage.

Good luck!

Image: “Muro Occidentale o del Pianto” (Western Wall or Wailing Wall) by Fabio Mauri (1993) CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr

The Day of Archaeology 2012

On the 29th June, archaeologists from around the world will contribute to an innovative mass-blogging project online called the ‘Day of Archaeology‘ . This digital celebration of archaeology is now in its second year following on from a very successful launch in July 2011 and has attracted over 400 archaeologists from all walks of life to share a day in their working lives with the rest of the world by blogging, tweeting, photographing or videoing their working day.

Based on the ‘Day of Digital Humanities‘, this project was the brainchild of PhD students, Matthew Law and Lorna Richardson, who created the idea during a short discussion on Twitter.  It quickly attracted support from a like-minded team of ‘digital’ archaeologists (note, these digital archaeologists work with the digital medium, they aren’t excavating old backup tapes from the archives!). Support for the original project came from the British Museum’s Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure (Daniel Pett), UCL’s Centre for Digital Humanities (Lorna Richardson), L-P Archaeology (Stuart Eve, Andrew Dufton, Jessica Ogden), Wessex Archaeology (Tom Goskar) and this year they have been joined by the Archaeological Data Service at the University of York, and also by Patrick Hadley, Karen Hart and Jaime Almansa Sánchez.

How Does the Project Work?

The ‘Day of Archaeology’ would be nothing without the help of the many participants, all contributing their stories for free. The foundations of the project have been built through a social media campaign on various platforms – Twitter, Flickr and Facebook.  For example, since April 2011, over 3300 tweets have been sent using the hashtag ‘#dayofarch’, and the information shared has been recycled many thousands of times via retweets, blogs and Facebook shares.

Within several weeks of the team announcing the project would be happening, enough people had signed up to make it viable and the Day of Archaeology looked like it would be a successful social media experiment (incidentally, social media use in archaeology is part of Lorna’s PhD research at UCL). The project is managed behind the scenes using Basecamp, and the various members of the team contributing their skills to the different aspects of organisation involved (for example publicity, web design, server management etc). Everyone involved is a volunteer, and all the work is done for free.  Content was created under a liberal licence (Creative Commons share-alike) and this year, we aim to deposit an archive with the ADS for posterity in case our server space disappears!

What Sort of Things Did People Contribute in 2011?

Last year contributions for the project were incredibly wide ranging, displaying the panoply of archaeological disciplines, and included professional archaeologists and volunteers.  There are some wonderful posts made via prose, imagery and video. Some notable examples of historical archaeology posts from last year that the team has been flagging up on Facebook and Twitter in the run up to this year’s event include:

The excavation of two households owned by freed African Americans in the nineteenth century in Annapolis, Maryland

An archaeological exploration of 16th and 17th century warfare in Ireland

Historical archaeology research at the Santo Tomé de Guayana site in Venezuela

Excavations by Binghampton University on an urban site dating from the late-nineteenth to early twentieth centuries at the Binghamton Intermodal Transportation Terminal

Retrieving post-medieval artefacts from the River Wear, Durhamin the North East of England ‪

A report from a community-based historic graveyard survey on an island off the west coast of Ireland

The above posts are just a snapshot of the Day’s content, if you visit the project website (www.dayofarchaeology.com), you can see over 435 posts from 2011 that give the casual reader a snapshot of the rich variety of archaeologists at work. The Day of Archaeology provides a unique behind-the-scenes insight into archaeologists’ daily lives; it is a multi-vocal, unscripted, unedited approach that offers open information about the field, both as a practise and as a discourse, but also delivers the discovery, the excitement and the mystery that is now the bread and butter of popular archaeological media. It also provides an insight into the many mundane office and field based tasks – the paper work, the research in dusty archives, the pencil sharpening – all the things you don’t see on the TV programmes…

Take Part in 2012!

You could be involved too. The event is running again on the 29th June (next Friday), and there is still time for you to sign up!  Just email us at dayofarchaeology@gmail.com and we’ll send you details of how to take part. The Day of Archaeology awaits your input!