National Archaeology Day 2012

On Saturday, October 20, 2012 archaeology enthusiasts will have a chance to  participate in a nationwide suite of events during the second annual National Archaeology Day.  Not to be confused with the digital media-flavored bonanza that was Day of Archaeology, National Archaeology Day seeks to connect locals directly to professionals, organizations, and museums through vibrant personal experiences.  This wonderful celebration of all things archaeology is a fantastic opportunity to highlight local resources, reaffirm an institutional commitment to public outreach, or delve into public programming for the very first time.

The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), instigator of National Archaeology Day, has identified three overarching goals including: raising awareness of archaeology as a discipline and a resource; emphasizing the universality of archaeological resources, including those right in our “backyards;” and uniting the archaeological community through a focal event (Thomas and Langlitz 2012).  At the time of this writing, almost 100 collaborating organizations (up from the 2011 inaugural year’s 14) will be promoting the day’s activities from across the United States and Canada, and in places as far away as Australia, Cyprus, Romania, Germany, and Ireland (Archaeological Institute of America 2012).  Here in the States, AIA has been joined by the Society for Historical Archaeology, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Society for American Archaeology, the U.S. National Park System, and many more organizations in nearly every state to raise awareness and provide avenues through which the public can get their hands dirty in the archaeology beneath their feet.  Last year’s activities included classroom visits, symposia, conferences, archaeology fairs, student presentations, lab open houses, and lectures (Archaeological Institute of America 2012).

As an Outreach Coordinator for the Florida Public Archaeology Network, I attempted to step out of my zealous outreach shoes to weigh the benefits of such a day for those who are less publicly inclined.  Relating the intricacies of the archaeological process to the general populace is not always easy or even instantly gratifying.  However, no one can deny that in this current economic and pedagogic climate it behooves us to try.

Now, more than ever, the archaeological community needs to inspire.  Such a lofty goal may not be as hard as you think.  A perusal of the more than 400 events listed on the AIA’s National Archaeology Day events calendar include such things as a display of Pennsylvania State Museum and Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology’s dugout canoe in Hamburg, Pennsylvania and a tour of the Dragonfly Petroglyph Site sponsored by the Grant County Archaeological Society and Gila National Forest.  The AIA in Kansas City will be offering a talk entitled “Spying on the Past: Satellite Imagery and Archaeology in Southern Mesopotamia.”  The Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site’s Archaeology Day includes collections tours, lectures, kid’s activities, special exhibits and more.  We at the southwest region of Florida Public Archaeology Network plan to offer a Project Archaeology teachers’ workshop, so that educators can bring structured archaeology curriculum into their classrooms.  A whole range of activities and events fall well within the scope of National Archaeology Day’s premise and are sure to appeal to a wide array of tastes and interests.

What inspired you to dive into archaeology?  Was it a museum visit?  Was it a trip to a lab or an archaeological site?  Did you hear one awesome lecture that stimulated your thirst for more?  We, as professionals “in the know,” are in the position to create great change.  Passion comes from knowledge and knowledge comes from sharing.  By inspiring and educating, we can reshape (albeit, sometimes on a painfully slow pace) public opinion and, most importantly, public support of our beleaguered cultural and archaeological resources.  All it takes is to go back to that one “aha!” moment that led you to where you find yourself today.

I feel another important emphasis is National Archaeology Day’s tenant to unite the archaeological community under a focal event.  We may sometimes feel as though our institutions are lone archaeo-bubbles awash in a cultural vacuum.  I see Archaeology Day as a perfect opportunity to reach out to the institutions around you.  Why not join up with the county museum, the historical house museum, or the battlefield site near you to put on an archaeology activity or a lecture series?  Bigger events that draw more visitors are more feasible when multiple parties come together under one overarching flag.

Excited?  Interested in joining the fun?  There is still time for you or your institution to sign on.  Fortunately for us all, the AIA National Archaeology Day website has everything tied together neatly.  Submit your group’s name to become a Collaborating Organization or donate to the cause by becoming a Sponsor.

Too late for you to plan and promote an activity for 2012?  Check out the Calendar of Events and blog for opportunities near you to help you plan for next year!  National Archaeology Day is also on Facebook and Twitter.  Make sure to use the hashtag #NatlArkyDay while tweeting from one of the amazing National Archaeology Day events!

It is heartening to see how well received National Archaeology Day has been.  I find it to be a positive sign of things to come, despite our current institutional concerns.  Will you be participating in National Archaeology Day? How will you be participating?  Can you translate your archaeological “aha!” moment for a new audience?  Do you think that events like National Archaeology Day have the power to inspire a long-term shift in support for archaeological and cultural resources and institutions?

If you are participating, please share with us in the comments below, on our Facebook Page, or send us a message on Twitter. We’d love to hear about it, and to let other people know about how historical archaeology will be represented!

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Mothballing Heritage: Closing the Georgia State Archives

Historical archaeologists have long recognized that some of the most compelling biographical and historical tales can be told about prosaic folks, and we understand that many of those people who we think we know best have complicated and even challenging biographies.  Imagine the complex accounts of American life that could be spun around the life stories of Jimmy Carter, Ty Cobb, Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd, Button Gwinnett, Fanny Kemble, Margaret Mitchell, James Ogelthorpe, Ma Rainey, Otis Redding, and Alice Walker.  That seemingly random assortment of people includes the mother of the blues, an American President, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, a reviled gangster, and a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Their common link is that they spent most of their lives in Georgia, the last of the original 13 colonies, one of the seven original Confederate States, and one of the centers of the civil rights movement.  Now imagine that the historical records of Georgia spanning nearly three centuries, including the details of all these famous figures and countless more people, were suddenly removed from the community’s reach.  This is in fact the quite startling threat that now faces archaeologists, genealogists, and historians who were shocked when the Georgia Secretary of State announced that the State Archives would lay off seven of its 10 full-time employees on November 1st and discontinue public hours.  In his September 13th press release announcing the closing, Secretary of State Brian Kemp (whose office administers the Archives) somewhat awkwardly and optimistically admitted that appointments to access the Archives “could be limited based on the schedule of the remaining employees.”  Should this proposal be approved, Georgia will be the only state in the country with such restrictive access to state archival records, effectively closing one of the nation’s first State Archives (opened in 1918) and balancing a $732,626 budget reduction entirely on the state’s archives budget.  Anybody wanting access to such records will be required to arrange an appointment amongst a flood of genealogists following new leads, neighbors documenting property lines, lawyers tracing historical precedents, and archaeologists researching sites throughout the state and region.

Kemp indicated in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the “Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget (OPB) instructed my office to reduce our budget by 3 percent ($732,626) for the coming year,” outlining the fiscal realities that face many archives, cultural institutions, and arts organizations facing a quite difficult financial climate.  In September, 2010 the Archives had gone from a five-day week to a three-day week as a cost-cutting move, and it eventually moved to being open only on Fridays and Saturdays before the recent decision to close the facility.  After November 1st the remaining archives’ employees will be responsible for nearly every dimension of archival maintenance in an operation Kemp indicated is currently “unsustainable,” ranging from monitoring air conditioning in the building (leased for $2.7 million each year) to entering new material into storage to administering patrons visiting the archives on appointments.  Kemp acknowledged that this move essentially “mothballed” the state’s archives and reduced the staff to only monitoring the most critical state documents.  Since the State Archives received 14,624 reference questions in 2010, we can reasonably assume that even the three most energetic archivists in the world cannot manage even a modest trickle of those requests and the state will essentially provide no access to public records.

The news that the Archive would now be open only by appointment was greeted with a flood of complaints by a vast range of constituencies who use the Archives.  At a somewhat ironically timed signing for a proclamation marking Georgia Archives Month on September 19th, a back-tracking Governor Nathan Deal awkwardly indicated that “We’re still working on our budget proposals right now,” he said, “but the archives will stay open.”  Kemp cautioned afterwards, though, that “the governor did not tell him about his pledge before it was made. `If he funds it to keep it open, that’d be great,’ said Kemp.  The secretary explained Deal would have to `tell me we weren’t going to have to come up with a $733,000 cut’ in order to fulfill the promise to keep the archives’ doors open.”

This would be an exceptional loss for Georgia and the nation alike, and it risks taking fiscal sobriety to an exceptionally draconian level.  Archivists have pointed out that Georgia law does actually legally require the state to make all public records “open for a personal inspection by any citizen of this state at a reasonable time and place, and those in charge of such records shall not refuse this privilege to any citizen.”  Yet at an ethical level, archives make governmental processes transparent and accountable to citizens, so they are not merely research institutions.  Such a move essentially risks writing a whole state out of the nation’s historical narrative.  Such archives are not simply the province of a handful of scholars and genealogists; instead, a vast range of citizens documenting property transactions, legal actions, and community historical details consult the state’s archival resources.

A facebook page Georgians Against Closing State Archives has over 3200 followers today and includes links to Georgia state officials for those of us who can stress how important such resources are to myriad community scholars; an online petition has been posted on change.org; and the Friends of Georgia Archives and History have followed the discussion closely.  In the wake of the stunning cuts at Parks Canada and similar discussions throughout the country if not internationally, it is important for historical archaeologists and community scholars to register the profound consequence of such resources to all of us within and outside Georgia alike.  It is impossible to interpret the nation’s narrative if we remove one whole state and countless people’s stories from the historical record, so this risks being a profound loss for all of us who respect heritage.

Tech Week: Underwater and Public Archaeology

Hello SHA blog readers and welcome to a third installment of Tech Week ! This week the SHA Technology Committee is thrilled to focus on underwater archaeology. But not just any underwater archaeology – this week’s bloggers are all concentrating on ways to engage the public through technology. Using technology to interact with the public is a particular concern for underwater archaeologists because the sites we study are generally inaccessible to all but the roughly 1% of Americans who SCUBA dive (the percentage is even lower in many other nations); however, we think this is a topic that should be of interest to all historical archaeologists. The public funds archaeology, the public loves archaeology, but the public does not always understand archaeology. New technologies are making it easier to better explain what we do and why it matters, and this week’s bloggers offer some excellent ideas on how to make the promise of technology a reality.

The week begins with a piece by T. Kurt Knoerl on using the internet to make connections to the ‘global shipwreck.’ As the founder and Chairman of the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, the premier online exhibit space for underwater archaeological projects, Kurt knows what he’s talking about. He argues that the internet should be used to actively engage the public and other archaeologists in collaborative projects.

The second post is by Kimberly Faulk (Geoscience Earth and Marine Services) and Daniel Warren (C & C Technologies), two leaders in the field of deep-water archaeology. Their blog discusses the recent Okeanos Explorer cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. While the technology involved in exploring shipwrecks thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface is amazing, their contribution focuses on something more important: making archaeology real to anyone with an internet connection. Their post not only discusses how technology can create a world of citizen scientists but also how technology can enrich the archaeologist.

Tech Week’s third blogger, Peter Fix, is an archaeological conservator with the Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation  and is heading-up the conservation of the 17th century ship La Belle. Peter’s contribution breaks from the internet driven approach of the first two pieces and discusses the technology behind conserving an entire shipwreck so that it can be viewed up-close and personal in a museum.

Finally, rounding out our week and continuing the theme of active public involvement through technology Annalies Corbin and Sheli O. Smith of the PAST Foundation echo the call for active public participation in archaeology. The PAST Foundation uses anthropology to teach science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), putting Annalies and Sheli on the frontline of public engagement. Their contribution, which looks to the future, is a fitting way to end this Tech Week.